by: C.M. Galdre
Beard stood upon the prow of the warship Satrian Falx, his long coal beard blowing in the sea air. It had been far too long since the warrior had felt this kind of freedom, not since his days spent roaming the frozen tundra of Thorgithe, his home. Despite the warm temperatures of the South Eastersea it reminded him of his birthland, the waves rolling on like the endless snow, the driving wind ever at his back, and before him infinite horizons.
The Thorgithen had commandeered the Satrian Falx and its crew when its previous captain succumbed to the ships dark magics and his crew failed to slay the mighty Beard. Weakness follows strenght, and show it was that the crew came to follow Beard.
The Satrian Falx was a wyrmship, an artifact of an ancient age, a piece of living technology long since forgotten in the endless cycles of Krytherion. A creature made of sorcery, the very existence of the dark ship offended Beards barbarian nature, blood magic, magic of the earth, stone, and steel was his peoples legacy and even then only the bonecasters and runesmithes dabbled in it. He abhorred the fell magick that bound this ship together, granted by some lord of night, or an other.
However, the ship was mighty and the two had formed an unlikely bond. The ship appreciated the warriors strength, how his iron will could repel the overwhelming presence the ship imposed upon its captain. The warrior appreciated the Satrian Falx’s utility and ability to manage the waves in ways the warrior was not familiar. The crew, as most marauders are wont to do, accepted Beard easily for his prowess, the ship had chosen him, none could best him. Even now that they drew ever closer to the edge of the Stormcoming, the crew stood behind their new leader as he stared grimly to the North, and to his home.
Wulfweirgen, the god-wolf of the ancient wind, approached the tavern with caution. She was familiar with their like, but this one seemed to break the mold of those she had observed from a far. No music was being played from within. The sound of revelry and drunkenness were absent, and the smell of blood was in the air.
As a rule the great wolf avoided human places, she was an old god, born at the dawn of all things, one of the first born of Yol, a watcher of the world. But now she was drawn to this inn, it was the same draw that had brought her to the stone byre during the Great Winter and save the life of the infant who came to be known as Beard. The door to the tavern was off its hinges and banged mournfully in the wind.
The Helm and Tap tavern was one of Southports seedier establishments, built long before the city in a thicket of trees known as the thieves grove. It was a place of shadows and death, but never in its long and colorful history did it suffer night like this. The great wolf plodded silently into the building, her godly bulk shifting into a smaller form to fit through the door, though still she kept her size imposing, many a battle could be won before it started by sheer strength of presence.
The scene before her was one of emotionless savagery. Corpses lay round the tavern like garlands, blood painted the walls and ceiling, and in the corner of the room a man sat comfortably, his legs resting casually upon the back of a dead barmaid, his hands dripping with blood as he sipped a beer. “I know thee.” The great wolf spoke in the ancient tongue. “And yet also do I not.”
“Some part of me remembers you as well wolf-mother, though it is but a memory of a ghost broken by time.” The man responded. “Why have you come?”
“I felt drawn.” The wolf replied coldly.
“I was drawn to this place as well.” The man replied, setting his beer down gently upon the gore strewn table.
“Were yee also drawn to do this?” Wuthweirgen snarled.
The man steepled his bloody fingers and drew them to his lips in contemplation. “Yes, it is difficult to describe how this came to be, it was more of a push then a pull if you understand my meaning.”
“I do not.” the god-wolf spat back.
“No matter. Now that you are here I am implored to ask you a favor.” the man continued.
“On what grounds do you believe I should aid thee?” Wulfwiergen growled, baring her deadly fangs.
“It is a matter of prophesy, we are both drawn to complete certain tasks, my favor is one driven by the last vestiges of my sane mind.” The man spoke pensively. “You may not believe me, but this room, the acts that I do are not entirely my will and though I appear to revel in them a part of me is broken each time I wake to such an atrocity. My mind is not my own, will is not my own, I am falling into darkness mother, I only ask that you listen to my request before I fall completely.”
Wulfweirgen stepped back at the mans words. She knew part of his scent, it was partly that which drew her, it was that which confused her. Though the man before her was without a doubt the traitor Brög, her smell was upon him, he smelled of her man-cub Beard though other influences twisted and perverted the scent, she could not doubt her nose. Tears came to god-wolfs eyes and it was then that she began to understand the wretched fate that was bound to that infant she had saved all those years ago.
“It starts tonight,” Brög continued. “In this very tavern I shall become known to the free peoples as 'The Dark One', a boy survived this carnage, and no doubt he will return with many more men I will be forced to kill. Then some shall follow, my mind will fall to the darkness that has driven my many acts as of late, hatred will consume me, sorcery twists within my veins, I am sundered Wuthweirgen, but there is one who can end this, the prophecy speaks of the golden path and the one who may walk it. You know of whom I speak.”
“If the prophesies are true then the one who could walk it stand before me, upon the path of darkness. All hope for Krytherion is lost.” the wolf replied calmly.
“Nay wolf-mother, I am but a shadow, a shade from that dark future sent and compelled to both fulfill my duty, and to drive the one that should follow. My mind is broken but there are memories there, that I have lived again, seen within another and yet I have sensed an influence within this one that drive him away from the path that I now walk. I ask you to guide him, when the time comes, guide him through whatever strange lands he must face, and then.. you must guide him to me.” Brög spoke, his eyes wild and the signs of fever growing across his brow.
“Where is the sword?” the wolf asked. “Buried to the hilt in the peak of Mondauth, but its whispers have never left me. Or perhaps they live in me as echos.” Brog replied.
“When he returns, I shall guide him.” Wuthweirgen replied.
The great wolf turned towards the door. “We are both diminished you and I,” the cloaked figure called out. “the time of the gods is ending, the world falls into ruin and I shall be the shadow that burns across the land. It begins tonight.”
Wuthweirgen sensed that whatever was left of Beard had finally lost its battle within the twisted creature known as Brög. “I diminished by choice,” the ancient wolf whispered to herself “you have fallen by fate my dear, dear boy. ” The great wolf leapt into the night and danced upon the wind, below her columns of marching lights flickered ominously as they made their way towards the tavern. Her hackles raised and a cold shiver ran down her spine, she looked back to tavern far behind her. The lights were gone and the scent rising upon the updrafts was filled with the scent of blood.
“We should shift.” the voice of the Satrian Falx danced through Beards mind. “The Stormcoming grows close, sails will not avail us here.”
Beard woke at once. Will there ever be a day when my mind is entirely my own, the warrior mused. The wyrmship was not the first creature to speak directly to the warriors troubled mind. Standing up slowly from his bed, Beard surveyed the captains chambers. He had thrown nearly everything the previous captain had owned overboard within the first week of setting sail. Now the stark chamber held only his bed and shadows. The warrior flexed his corded muscles, he did not enjoy the merging with the ship, but could see its necessity. The wailing wind outside clawed and tore at the ships black ebon-wood bow. They wouldn’t damage the ensorceled ship, but it could not maneuver without sails unless the shift was made.
His sword arm held out before him, Beard called upon the innate power that had merged with his very form. Shadows grew around his arm, and stretched to his palm from the corners of the room. A sword began to take form, a great blade, heavy and ancient, its edge jagged and cruel. The Tattered Edge flared into existence and the warrior twirled it through the air, its keen unseen true edge splitting the air as it went. He heard it, the whispering from the blade, its own will reaching out and trying to grasp at the warriors mind, hungry to take control. Beard released the blade and it dissipated in a flash, back into the shadows from whence it came. The blade gave him a power unparalleled, but ever did he regret the bond. He drew it now for he knew this was the will that helped opposed the Satrian Falx during the merge, and kept the ships dangerous psychic hooks from taking hold of his mind and the black sympathetic wyrmblood from invading his veins.
Beard strutted out to the deck where the crew was already waiting. They didn't see him. All eyes had turned to the north where the ship was bearing down upon a wall of swirling water of such immense proportion that it seemed to reach a horizon before it ended, and so tall it merged with the sky in a tempest of black clouds and thunder. The sea seemed drawn to the mighty storm and at the base of the mighty column the planks of innumerable ships churned in the white froth before the storm.
The hairs on the sailors bodies rose with the static in the air and the sky cackled with lightning. A shadow seemed to move within the center of the storm and the men cowered at an unearthly groan that came from within.
“This is the work of an angry god!” a man shouted. “Let us turn back cap'n! We cannot go through!”
“We go north.” Beard exclaimed, his cold blue eyes daring any man to say different. “Prepare yourselves men, we join with the wyrm.”
The crew of the Satrian Falx braced themselves for the change. The black ship began to shift as the runes within its hold glowed green hot, the raw ancient magick flowing through them. The black deck became like a hungering ooze, devouring the men, pulling them body and soul into the extradimentional space within the hold. Beard too sank down into the body of the ship as its masts folded back into spines, its body growing long long and lean, the prow transforming into the draconic head of a wyrm. Satrian, bellowed a thunderous roar and plunged headlong into the Stormcalling.
The sea was calm and gently swaying. Beard opened his eyes slowly to the bright southern face of Sol. Hey lay upon the deck of the Satrian Falx, the sounds of his crew rousing echoed up from the hold.
“You are awake.” Satrian projected his voice into the groggy Thorgithens mind. “That did not go as you hoped.”
“No.” Beard coughed. “It did not.”
After barreling head first into the wall of water, the Satrian Falx and its crew were hoisted up into a column of water within the center of the deluge. The great wyrmship had writhed with all its might to resist the flow and head on through to the north, but the churning waters proved stronger. There was something else at play within the storm. Beard and the ship had both felt it, a great will moved against their own pushing them away. They had pushed nearly to the core of the storm when they felt it, and that is when things turned for the worse. The wyrmship was blasted about like a leaf caught in the wind, until it was finally ejected in a great waterspout that carried the ship for untold miles before finally coming to rest.
Beard and the ship had their connection severed, and as such the ship was forced to revert back from wyrm to warship. The experience had knocked the ship and entire crew into an uncomfortable stasis that they were only now awaking from.
“How long have we drifted?” Beard asked.
“These stars are foreign to me.” The ship replied. “But by the angle of Sol I would say it has been nearly a week. It is a miracle we are still alive.”
Beard reflected on this as he attempted to get his bearings. In the distance he saw a dark hump rise above the water. “How far to the island?” the warrior asked.
“We could reach it by nightfall if the wind is good.” the ship replied.
“Set a course, I will speak to the crew, we will need to take a more wholesome rest before going ashore.” Beard barked before marching off to the hold.
Etria swooned in the blaze of Sol's rays, being jerked suddenly back to consciousness by the firm grip her attendant Nia had upon her golden locks. “This would be easier if you quit dozing, honored priestess.” Nia chided, running a pink coral comb through yet another tangle in Etria's hair. “It would also be easier if you quit sneaking out at night to explore the jungle. Your place is within the temple.”
“I wish it was all cut off. I hate my hair. It gets caught in things when I run, and I am always getting in trouble when it gets messy.” Etria responded, puffing her cheeks in a defiant pout. “I don't want to be priestess.”
Nia knew this story all too well, it had been this way ever since she had been tapped to be the caretaker and playmate of the High Priestess of the Ebon Moon. Her eyes began to well with tears. Etria was seven, groomed from birth for the role, never cutting her hair, never allowed into the daylight (except when Nia snuck her into a beam like today) raised to be the vessel for the birth of the Lidless God. Tonight was the night Etria would be taken. Tonight was the night Nia would walk into the sea so that Etria would not travel the last path alone. “Maybe we will get it cut tomorrow.” Nia said her voice quavering. Etria sighed heavily, asleep once more in the morning sun.
“Cap'n were getting close. The men are rousing.” A rum soaked voice called from outside Beards door.
“I am awake Rotgut. Bring us in close, when we go ashore it won't be in the wyrm.” Beard barked.
Beard listened to Rotgut as he shuffled off, one could always tell when the old mariner was about, either by the stench or the sound his wooden leg made as he dragged it behind him. It didn't have the clean tap of a traditional peg leg. Rotgut had never been much for anything so fancy as a bona fide peg, when he lost his right leg to a combination of shark bite and cannon ball he just tied a bit of shattered mast to his stump and cinched it off with a belt. Beard shook his head, Rotgut would have made a decent Thorgithen.
There were other things to attend to now, the ship needed restocking and Beard would need to lead the shore party. The warrior stood and went through a series of stretches taught to him as a boy to prepare for battle. His joints popped ad cracked, his corded muscles rippling beneath his sun reddened flesh as he paced carefully through the sequenced forms. Though he had no reason to think that the island was any real threat a Thorgithen always errs on the side of caution, even in his homeland, especially in his homeland, underestimating the wilds was often the last thing a man did before finding himself before the bone gate.
There was a uneasy feeling born upon the wind as Beard strode out upon the deck to pick his landing crew. The moon was dark, Beard marked it as strange and tried to write it off as a peculiarity of the south seas but then he recalled that it was not due to be new, by rights the moon that night should be in its fullness. The warrior watched as the dark orb hung ominously in the sky, larger than normal, darker than normal. This is a cursed night, Beard thought to himself.
The men shivered as they looked to the shore, the sound of drums echoed from within the islands mysterious interior.
“Hey Cap.” an adventurous scamp ventured “maybe we wait till morning to, you know, go to the island for provisions and what not.”
“We aren’t all that hungry” another piped up, barely loud enough to be heard above the murmur of the crews collective stomachs.
“We could always turn to cannibalism, its nearly tradition for a crew to do it at some point. Least till morning.” A rather wrinkled pirate piped up, his tongue waving nervously behind the many gaps in his broken grin.
Beard grabbed the ships longest rope and tied one end to the mast, the rest he slung over his shoulder. “We go ashore.” he replied woodenly before taking two powerful strides and leaping over the ships rail barely making a ripple as he slipped beneath the waves, the rope unfurling behind him. “You need not swim, just grab hold of the rope and follow.” He shouted as he surfaced and began swimming towards the distant shore. “Unless you want to go hungry.”
The crew shuffled nervously. “We don't all have to go.” The would-be-cannibal whispered conspiratorially.”Just a few to get us some nosh to last us till we find another island. One without a devil moon and a heartbeat.” Several kerchiefed heads nodded in assent. “Right. Lets draw straws. Hinkel, Waverly, Barnacle Billiam, and Crabs go find us some lengths of string or something.”
The four named pirates rushed off below decks. “Right, ok so here is the plan.” the pseudo-Hannibal continued. “When those four come out we grabs em and throws them overboard and grease the rope.”
“What if Cap'n comes back and finds he can't get back in the ship.” One of the smaller pirates, named Powderface, piped up. Powderface got his name, as many pirates do, from an occupational related injury. Being slender of form and having an abundance of energy one could only sigh and call “pep” he was recruited early on to shimmy down one of the big cannons when it was jammed and clear it of debris. It just so happened that one of the times it wasn't so much clogged as the powder was damp, and while the amount of dry powder that did go off was not enough to jettison poor Powderface from the gun, it did have enough force to spit him back out onto the deck and give his face that permanently surprised look that so many of the older ladies of port spend unscrupulous amounts of money to achieve.
“I don't think a greased rope would hold that'un back.” the traditionalist pirate replied sagely. A short scuffle and a few choice words later, Hinkel, Waverly, Barnacle Billiam (BB), and Crabs found themselves hauling rope, moving begrudgingly towards shore.
Etria twirled in her ceremonial dress. It was pure white, woven from the finest spider silk, and neatly bejeweled with polished azurite. She twirled in the torchlight, her golden hair seemed to capture and store the light’s warmth and glow. If only she had been born as the rest of us,Nia kept her raging thoughts tangled in her storming mind. The people of the Crescent Isles had long worshiped the Lidless One, their wretched god from beyond the stars. The creature came every seven years and the island that could provide the most suiting vessel for its communion was given dominion over the other tribes. Nia's people had ruled the isles for time immemorial. The other islands raised priestesses, like Etria, as well, but they lived, mere alternates for the perfect being that was always born of Nia's tribe. Not only her tribe, her families sister line. Etria was Nia's cousin and, as had become the tradition on the isle, to preserve the line of priestesses none from the sister line may marry outside their own and Nia's line must always be their keepers.
How many malformed infants had been born without breath in recent years, how sickly how destroyed her cousins had become? Nia knew the truth, there was intervention from the priests when necessary. When too many malforms were born a priest would honorably step in and aid the women of the priestess line bare children without blemish, replenish the waning blood in the line, and smother all those born with the priests dark hair.
Etria knew nothing of her fate. How she would be taken and bound. How the lidless eye would appear upon the darkened moon and gaze upon her, judging her form before unmaking her mind and rebuilding it in its image. How the Lidless One would speak then from her mouth, with her voice, and blood would run from her eyes and ears as her mind churned from the intrusion. Etria could not know how her lifeless husk would fall to the ground when the Lidless One left and be carted away into the darkness deep within the temple. And, not even Nia knew how in the heavy darkness the priests would eat of the rapidly chilling flesh to gain the knowledge of their wicked god, gibbering as they picked the body apart, whispering the secretes that seeped into their minds.
Nia watched as Etria danced towards her stricken mother, the shadows of the priests looming behind her. Nia turned to the long path that lead to the shore. She would not take the direct route, she would cut off through the secret trail that she had always taken Etria on, away from the prying eyes of superstitious fishermen. She would walk to the shore where she had left the rope and heavy stone, and let the shifting waves wash away her tears and memories.
“Oy Cap'n!” Crabs yelled as he waved his rather distinct hands as high as he could above the waves. The tide had carried the four crew members further down the shore than their captain despite the rope and they were now gazing upon a rather peculiar view.
“I f'ink she is jus fishen, she is.” Hinkel offered.
“If she is, she is not going to catch much without a hook, or bait... or a pole.” Waverly added.
“I think she is the bait, and the only thing she is hoping to catch is a fatal case of water on the lung if you get my meaning.” said Barnacle Bill. He spent some time apprenticed in a fishery, so he was considered and educated man by most of the crew. They did not get his meaning.
Nia walked tearfully towards the shore, the heavy stone she cradled in her arms was bound well with rope which fell to the ground where it dragged a short distance before looping back up to where it was tied around her waist. There was something out in the waves, flailing its arms and looking at something up shore. Nia strained, though the light of the stars illuminated the white sands of the beach and the caps of the waves, she could not make out to what the thing was calling. She walked slowly into the swaying ocean. The water was nearly up to her waist when she heard the frantic splashing coming from the direction the thing had been waving towards.
Beard saw the girl shortly after Crabs had begun signaling. She was young, and about to do something incredibly stupid. The warrior had never thought highly of suicide, a true Thorgithen fought and clawed at life unto the bitter end. Nothing pitiful, never begging for mercy or anything. A battlefield with wounded Thorgithens upon it was a battlefield with a considerable amount of crawling, shin stabbing, calf biting, and eventually, eye gouging, going on. As such, Beard wasn't about to watch a girl drown herself, and with all the grace of an enraged devilboar uprooting a forest, Beard shot through the waves. To call it swimming would be inaccurate, the warrior, who was leaving a trail of foaming white water behind him, was tearing the ocean a new one.
Nia was in shock. She had planned on poetically ending her life deep beneath the waves, but now she stood in terror of the thing that was barreling towards her. It had arms like a man who started the day by pushing the moon off his chest. Its face was a mass of swirling black hair with eyes gleaming bright blue in the starlight. As it rose from the waves with each powerful stroke it blasted air and water from its mouth like a mini gale and it was coming at her like starving shark that smelled blood.
Nia dropped the heavy stone and disappeared beneath the waves.
The warrior saw the girls head disappear beneath the waves. Youth, he thought disgusted, but he smiled grimly as he remembered his own cycles had been tampered with, in this world he should be a boy of no more than fourteen. Beard had not spent the majority of his life in this world.
The warrior reached the spot where the girl went under and dove. It was instantly apparent what had occurred. The seabed still showed where the fool girl had dropped the stone into a sinkhole in the sand and it had dragged her beneath. Beard surfaced and drew a great breath, his crew watched dumbstruck as their captain dove and disappeared beneath the waves and sand.
“Right well I supposes thats it innit.” Crabs declared.
“Yup” Hinkel and Waverly said in unison.
“All in favor of heading back to the ship?” BB called a vote.
Four hands, three normal, and one that looked more like a claw rose out of the water. At that moment they heard a rumbling from beneath the water, followed in quick succession by a significant amount of bubbles rising from where their captain had gone under. The pirates looked at each other and shrugged. As they turned to head back a heavy stone erupted from beneath the waves followed by a rope that had been tied to it and rocketing along in tow a young girl, the force of the journey expelling sea water from her lungs.
The pirates stood mouth agog as they felt a slight tug on the rope, instinctively they all grabbed hold and dug in. The rope lurched and the men held firmer. The rope jolted and the pirates began to walk backwards. More bubbles rose to the surface and out of the sand and water shot Beard. The four pirates fell over into the waves as the rope slackened and Beard landed square footed upon the firm sand next to the sink hole. Bead blew the water and salt from his nose and mouth and swept his slick black hair from his face and strode over to the girl.
“What would compel you to do such a thing.” Beard bellowed. “Only a fool ends their life before their cycles are unwound. You have plenty of breath in your lungs still, I suggest you use it.”
“Etria.” Nia sobbed. “My cousin, she dies tonight and I would go with her. She shouldn't face the darkness alone.”
Beard raised a wary eyebrow. “Oh. Is she sick? Injured? Can you not heal her or gather herbs for her survival.”
Nia shot the warrior an angered gaze that could cause the most stalwart heart to wither beneath its heat. “She has been given to the Lidless One.”
A cold fury rose in Beards veins. The name alone invoked such dark responses within the warriors mind that he needed no more persuasion than he had already been given. “Which way.” Beard asked, his face a perfect mask, his voice barely concealing the anger in his voice. Nia was taken back at the sudden change, she had taken the warrior as a boisterous and foolhardy adventuring type, but before her now stood a figure that emanated power. The girl pointed feebly back towards the village and temple from whence she came, beyond the jungle where the drums were reaching a fevered pitch.
Beard lept into the dark forest like a panther stalking pray, his lean muscles working perfectly in unison he padded off into the distance, making no sound in his passing.
“Kor.” Crabs exclaimed as he and the rest of the shore party arrived next to the girl.
“I ain't known him long, but I nevers seen him like that.” The pirate shivered involuntarily, and not from the chill of water. “Don't think I would like to be on the other end of that wood right now.”
“Do you think we should follow him?” The girl asked.
“Imagine so.” BB answered. “But not to close. No sense getting caught in the shit storm he is bringing.”
The other three pirates nodded sagely. The art of running not to quickly was well known by all pirates who lived long enough to have a profitable career. The most profitable pirates hardly ran at all, with battle cries like “I'll bring up the rear.” and “I'll just clean up here a bit, you go on ahead.”
Nia untied the rope still tethering her to the stone. She paused briefly to brush some of the sand from her temple smock with little success and then strode off towards the path that had until now been only her and Etria's. Now she was plodding down it with four pirates in tow, heading back towards her village where she would witness her dearest friend, the charge she had cared for since before the girl could stand, have her mind profaned by her peoples dark deity. The silence in the shadowed jungle was daunting. Nia had only felt like this once before, she had been so young then. Her mother had locked her in her room to shelter her from the ceremony. In truth, those that were not priests or of the priests line hated the Lidless One and wished to do away with the old ways, to worship nothing and only rejoice in a day well lived.
The priests, however, had power, the Lidless One was not ungenerous to those that truly served. The devotion of the lidless priests was absolute, they removed their eyelids and tattooed their flesh in swirling patterns so intricate and detailed it was as if their very flesh was black. They wet their eyes with goats blood and danced on the night of the new moon and all who saw them were cowed by their fearsome visage. When war breaks between the tribes it is the priests that decide the battle, arcane elements channeling through their ensorceled forms, some thew fire and lighting, whilst others changed into daemoniac things with great gouging claws and wicked horns.
No, the people could not stand against the priests with such powers. All they could do was hide their children safely away, hidden from the horrors that occur upon the night of the black moon. The light of the pale stars shown brightly through the canopy, the light was welcome but the shifting patterns it cast within the shadows of the wood was not. The motley crew of a would-be-teenage-suicide and four pirates closed their ranks and walked in silence. The drums began to grow louder and the chanting of the priests echoed through the night, their high pitched shrieks and ululations filling the air.
“Do you smell that?” Hinkel asked.
The others pirates sniffed the air cautiously, Hinkel was known for pulling pranks using a similar phrase.
“Smells like smoke.” BB offered.
Nia pointed above their heads, a thick black cloud of smoke was pouring from the center of the island. “It is almost time. The priests blacken the sky to ease the coming of the Lidless One. He comes from the abyss beyond the stars. Starlight is ever his enemy.”
Silently Beard slipped from the forest line and into the village surrounding the temple. He took care to move through the deserted village with caution, so far the advantage of surprise was with him and he did not wish to lose it to carelessness now. The closer he crept towards the temple the thicker the smoke in the sky became, he had noticed it back in the jungle and wondered as to its purpose. As he saw the light dwindle from the starlight sky its ominous meaning became more apparent. The creature they summoned had no love of natural light, even now the warrior saw each orange flame of the ceremonial torches be transformed with powder into an ominous red.
Every muscle in the warriors body ached for battle but he knew that if he was not careful the girl he wished to save would be lost and all that would be left would be slaughter and revenge. Some part of him relished the idea of this, the shadowy blade that was bound to him stirred within him, begging to be let out. No, the warrior restrained himself, not this fight. Beard snuck round a final row of the low thatched housing and the temple grounds opened up before him.
The smoke had obscured his view before, but now that he was close the view of the temple was staggering. Beard had never seen its make before on this plane, but it bared a startling resemblance to the scale and and oppressive nature of the structure he had seen in the realm of the Slumbering God. The surround was perfectly flat, marble tiles peaked up through the sand of the ages, and in places the polished stone still glinted in the red light. The temple itself had stairs on all sides creating long tiers that ran up to the very edges of the main structure which was squat and pyramid like, with grand marble walls reaching down from the roof and bracing the structure on its heavy foundations. The doors were tomb like, and no light came from within. Beard imagined that the building had a vast underground network of tunnels in which the priests could perform their grisly magicks. Perched high upon the structures roof a single column supported a giant stone crescent which in turn supported a massive black stone sphere. The whole complex must have been magically augmented too bare its weight, for if the core of the giant stone was solid than it would surely have collapsed with the ages.
The grounds surrounding the temple were filled with lackluster villagers, dressed in various ceremonial finery, loose robes decorated with lapis and tourmaline, feigning interest in the event whenever a priest drew near, but mainly they looked to the temple with a mixture of disgust and fear. The priests were swarming over the temple steps, dancing and screeching in some fell tongue. Their bodies were covered with tattoos to the point that they looked almost black by the red light, with intricate swirling patters formed within their flesh. Bronze braziers littered the long steps, filled with red flame, and billowing thick black smoke into the sky.
Beard scanned the scene for the girl to be sacrificed, he had left without details but the warrior knew he would have little trouble figuring out who needed saving. Finally a group of priests parted revealing a young girl with hair as bright as the sun bound in black ropes, her face painted with a bar of red across her eyes, her hands and feet stained crimson. She was suspended by her arms, which were bound behind her back, to a long rope that stretched high into the air before connecting to a ring on a post that jutted from this particular side of the temple. The wood structure was new but its anchoring in the building was well worn, it appeared to be a temporary rigging for special events. The girls toes could just barely touch the ground, so perfectly had the rig been set up.
The warrior worked his way around the crowd, he knew the buccaneer garb he had acquired whilst sailing would stand out too much for him to get close, and so he did as men of action have done since the beginning of daring rescues: he grabbed a man from behind and dragged him into the shadows where he left him bound and naked. Beards chest and arms were far too large for the ceremonial garb and he could hear the fabric tearing as he walked. He had the sense to keep his own breeches, choosing to hide them beneath the robe, and was glad of it as it became apparent that the borrowed clothing would not last long once he got into a fight. He moved through the crowd easily, most were too busy watching out for a priest to notice the giant Thorgithen moving among them. The drumming grew more intense and the warrior quickened his pace.
Beard reached the edge of the crowd as the drums and shrieking priests reached a frightening crescendo, and then silence. The warrior held as all eyes turned towards the heavy hanging black moon in the sky as it aligned with the black sphere affixed to the temple. A deeper darkness, a shadowy form, blacker than the deepest black, a void appeared in the shadow of the moon and dripped from the sky, enveloping the great stone atop the temple. The priests waited on bated breath and the people moved back a little. The fires in the braziers erupted and spat angry sparks, the ground shook and the stone sphere cracked as it transformed into a giant lidless eye, red and reptilian, drinking in the vision before it. The eye focused upon the dangling girl and narrowed. The giant red pupil dilated and continued to expand beyond the normal bounds of its mortal facsimile until all that that was left was a glossy black orb that slithered and detached from the stone moon hovering in the air and descended slowly towards its helpless victim.
At the perimeter of the village five figures dashed from the shadows of the woods into the long shadows of the villages dwellings. The foul red light cast from the village center, where the temple stood, filled the stealthy quintet with dread. Nia could hardly hear over the beating of her heart in fear, she had never felt such terror. The girl collapsed against the side of a dwelling, grasping her chest, her eyes wide, tears falling heedlessly from her unblinking gaze.
“You don't have to go any further kid.” Crabs, laid a hand on Nia's shoulder.
“You wait here, we can go on ahead.”
“Shouldn't we all just go back?” Hinkel asked hopefully.
Crabs glared at him.
“Me n' Waverly will go see what is ahead, you two stay with the girl.” Barnacle Bill barked. “We'll see what's going on and come back here to determine what to do next.”
BB and Waverly took off at a cautious pace, on through the village towards the temple. When they were beyond earshot Hinkel looked to Crabs and the girl with a malicious gaze.
“Well then. Now that those two are gone, what say we have some fun.” Hinkel eyed the girl non too subtly.
Crabs moved in front of Nia, blocking Hinkels path.
“Whats gotten into you Hinkel?”
“Get outta my way!” Hinkel screamed. “Were gonna die on this daemon cursed isle and I ain't gonna go without haven a little comfort.”
“I was afraid of that.” Crabs sighed.
Hinkel made a lunge for the girl but Crabs was the swifter, no one expected the mangled pirate to be effective in a fight, his damaged hands prevented him from holding weapons or making a fist, but he had learned to fight with his unique appendages quite effectively. Crabs' right hand shot out in a blur and caught Hinkel full in the throat which Crabs followed up by curling his fingers in towards Hinkels collar bone and gave a savage push. The rapacious pirate fell to his knees grasping at his throat as the blood came quick, choking him as he gasped for air. In a single swift motion Crabs had ruthlessly smashed Hinkels larynx. Perhaps spurred by the violent atmosphere or by memories of protecting his sisters on the streets in his youth, Crabs wasn't finished with Hinkel. He kicked his former comrade full in the stomach, leading with the hard edge of his shin. Hinkel responded by spraying a mass of blood from his mouth, peppering the air with a fine red mist, before rolling away from the enraged pirate and the girl he guarded. A few flecks of blood landed upon Nia's cheek. Crabs turned to the girl to assure her she was safe, but she was staring at blood on her hand, she had smeared it from her face, her breathing quickened as she looked from her hand to Crabs. He raised his hands to calm her but Hinkels blood had splattered them as well. In the red light of the temple fires the blood looked black, and enhanced the crablike shape from which Crabs got his nickname.
Nia ran, not towards the forest, but towards the horrid ceremony. The call to wait died in Crabs throat as the girl ran, the pirate turned to Hinkel who was sprawled out on the ground gasping for air, drowning in his own blood. He had known Hinkel had a reputation for being rough with the ladies of the port, he knew too that there was a rumor that he had been charged with the murder of a night girl once but had not given it any thought till the events that had just transpired. Crabs walked over to the dying man and searched him for the telltale mark, a tattoo given to those convicted of such a crime. Nothing on the wrists or arms or chest. Crabs cursed, he had to know. Then he saw the soiled bandage around Hinkels neck. “Strange” Crabs commented “in all our years together I have never seen you take a wound to the neck, but as I think about it, ever have you had this rag tied round it.” The bloody pincer that was Crabs' right hand moved to the bandage where it had been partially dislodged by his strike, slowly he peeled the fabric back. There it was, the heartskull, the tattoo given to rapists upon conviction. Crabs eyes filled with fire, and his booted foot found its way to Hinkels neck. He pressed down slowly, his conscious clear. Hinkel struggled and grasped at the vindictive pirates leg. Crabs stomped, once, twice, three times, and then ran off after Nia. In all his long years Crabs had never killed a man that didn't need killing, he was glad Hinkel was dead and Crabs' blood was up. He could explain his actions to the captain later, somehow Crabs figured he would understand, but for now he had to find a terrified girl and make sure no harm would come to her.
The tribe stood in stifled horror as the Lidless One glided gracefully through the air towards the drugged sacrifice. Some had seen it many times before and knew that any minute now the screams would start and last, unabated, for several hours before their dark god successfully broke his victims mind. Collectively the people flinched as the dark orb reached the ceremonial rig, but the screaming didn't start, instead they heard only the sound of a heavy wooden beam bouncing off the temple steps and the angry howls of their priests. Their eyes opened to a peculiar scene, a foreign man, his pale and well muscled hide standing out in stark contrast with the tanned and tattooed priest, stood standing between the Lidless One and his prize, his hand flickered with a dark flame and his eyes glowing with azure wrath. The warrior cut the girls bonds save those which bound her wrists, and hoisted her arms around his neck. The drugged girl hung limply from the warriors neck, and those close saw that the warrior moved carefully as not to jostle her. The full realization of what was taking place slowly swept through the tribe like a traveling plague, this man was attempting to save the girl and defied both priests and most ancient god. The people ran.
Beard questioned his actions only briefly as he began to back away from the closing priests. So far the ominous orb had remained stationary in the air above, but the warrior imagined it would take some terrible action soon. One foot behind the other the warrior backed away until a brazer full of fire was next to him, he was surrounded, but he had formulated at least a part of a plan to escape. The group before him charged, some mid transformation into wild bestial things, others with limbs crackling with elemental fury. The shadowy sword Tattered Edge flared into existence in Beards sword arm. The warrior put it to swift use, swinging the blade in a wide arc and slamming it into the the brazier to his right. The jumble of bronze, embers, and flame burst into the oncoming priests, searing their flesh and scattering them. The burly Thorgithen turned and met those that had been sneaking up behind him head on. With the girl dangling from his back, the warrior took care not to expose her to the transformed priests raking claws and teeth, nor the crackling bursts of fire and lighting being lobbed at them by those that elsewhere might have called themselves sorcerers.
The tattooed priests were not used to fighting one of such overwhelming prowess, and Beard cut them down without remorse. Beard bit back the bitter memories of learning to fight with a comrade draped across one back, it brought back memories of his mentor, the man that had gone on to kill his father. Beard twirled as he had all those years ago, then with a dead deer strapped to his back, now with a drugged and innocent child. He recalled the twirling circular motion of his blade, always kept in motion, defending his charge, and keeping his circling enemies back. Then it had been fellow Thorgithens, a game warriors played to hone their skill, now put to deadly practice. Beard remembered the beating he received when after the game was done his doe revealed several fresh cuts and gashes. The next game had been more serious, a live doe strapped to his back. He remembered the scream the poor creature let out as a fellow warriors blade caught it in the ribs, and so to he remembered the warm blood upon his back. Beard had blacked out then, when he awoke his charge was well and being mended, six warriors were sprawled around upon the ground in various states of consciousness, and his mentor looked upon him with grim satisfaction, it was an exercise that had awoken the battlelust in him for the first time.
Etria swooned as she felt herself being twirled around, bright lights and red fire all around. The drugs had begun to wear off and she was becoming ever more aware of the events around her. Her feet dangled free but her hands were bound around a strange mans neck and all around the tattooed priests of her people were throwing hot fire and lighting from their hands, and lunging at the warrior with glistening claws and fangs. Etria didn't know what was going on, one the one hand, she was being taken somewhere by a stranger, on the other hand she had never been very fond of the priests. Etria did the only thing she could in such a situation, she screamed.
Beards eyes grew wide as the girl he carried screamed and flailed upon his back. The warrior did not know it was out of fear and confusion and reacted as he had all those years ago in training, he slipped into the battlelust. The Tattered Edge burst into action as it had never before, priests on all sides of the enraged warrior fell away, slashed by its grizzly edge, blood bursting from hundreds of cuts made by the blades unseen shadowed edges. The assailants Beard had scattered with the burning brazier had regrouped and were bearing down on the frenzied warrior, firing their magick with reckless abandon. Beard swung his blade in a wide arc catching a few of the front runners and sending them sprawling down the steps clutching at their spilling entrails. Those that did not take a direct hit still suffered the blades unseen bite, several priests touched their bleeding stomachs in disbelief at the laceration that had been left when they had not even felt the touch of the blade.
The warrior grinned with grim satisfaction as the ground grew wet with the blood of his enemies. He was aware the girl upon his back had gone silent, he feared for her, but for now his concentration must be on battle and escape. Battling over the bodies of half-transformed priests the warrior felt a long horn brush against his leg, the warriors honed reflexes had him stabbing the corpse before the warrior realized that the thing was already dead. A moment's contemplation passed and the warrior grabbed hold of the long horn and placed his foot upon the priests-things skull. His muscles barely straining with the effort, Beard pulled the horn free of its gory crown and set it to use as a parrying blade. The warrior now set to his task with grim efficiency, the addition of the horn to use on the defensive freed his sword arm to stay on the attack. A handful of the frenzied priests fell to the ground, their heads liberated from their necks, before the followers of the Lidless One began to realize that they were out matched against the mighty warrior.
The priests began to back off and re-think their strategy, clearly an all out assault was not going to work against such a foe. It was then that the dark orb made its move. The orb pulsed with a deep resonating sound that could only originate from the abyss so dark was its inflection. The combatants quailed at its resounding tones and the field of battle grew quiet as the orb set to its wicked work.
Crabs found the girl among her people cowering at the edges of their village watching as a deadly battle played out. As the pirate arrived it seemed that something strange was occurring upon the field, stranger than a small army of shapeshifting sorcerer priests attacking a paragon of battle and losing. A dark orb hung in the air, pulsing with a music that made the pirates skin crawl. Nia just stood her eyes red rimmed for no more tears could come, her cousin appeared alive, dangling from the warriors back, but the terror of the scene, the events at the edge of the forest, had broken her.
Crabs bent down and whispered in the girls ear. “Come on, we need to move. Round the side where Cap'n 'll be heading. If anyone 'll get your girly out its that'n.”
Nia was frozen to the spot her eyes fixed upon the scene of ever growing horror upon the temple grounds. Crabs followed her gaze and set his hand upon her shoulder, imploring her to move away. The Lidless One was casting some strange spell upon both living and dead priests, they were changing, shifting beneath their skin, into mixtures between man and beast. This was one of the powers the dark god had given his followers, but that had been a choice before, now all the priests upon the field were stricken with his blessing. Faces elongated, some into lupine shapes, others feline, and still others took on hircine forms, their limbs growing long and powerful. As their transformations completed the creatures no longer bore semblances of human intelligence, they had been taken entirely by the Lidless One.
“Bestow my blessing upon others, bring more to my call.” A fell voice resonated from within the orb and the creatures answered, turning upon their own people. They fell upon the terrified villagers like a dark tide, tearing out their throats, infecting them with their bites, the dead and dying not going violently to the grave, but being transformed into dark creatures as well.
Crabs didn't wait for the creatures to turn towards Nia and himself. He scooped the girl up in his arms and ran off through the village, moving from shadow to shadow. Villagers all around were falling to the beasts and rising to return to the temple center, but Crab's hadn't survived on the streets of some of the roughest cities on the southern coasts on luck, he was a master of the art of being unnoticed, and as such he was able to move through the stricken village with ease. He had but one goal, to circle round to the back of the temple, it seemed that no attention was given there, and if he could make it through the jungle on the back side then he might be able to signal the ship and get out. He could only hope that the Cap'n thought the same.
Beard surveyed the temple grounds in light of the new situation. Whilst the horrid magick had given him a pretty good diversion, he did not like the prospect of running back towards the ship through a sea of mutated priests and villagers. The warrior considered his options. As he gazed upon the great stone effigy of the moon at the top of the temple a plan quickly formed within the crafty Thorgithens mind. But first things first, the warrior took a moment to check upon the girl dangling from his neck. Swiftly, Beard lifted the girls arms over his head and laid her upon the ground, she did not appear to be injured, and, had apparently fainted. Thanking his good fortune the warrior returned the girl to his back and then ran at the temple full speed. The structures slight incline allowed him to run a fair ways up it before he finally lept and drove his blade into its stony side. With a herculean heave he swung up to the temple roof and set to work.
Shadows enveloped the ancient blade as the warrior readied his muscles and focused upon the strike he would have to make. Beard placed his feet into the solid stance called “the sunderer” that he had been taught in his youth, a stance to aid one battling an armored warrior upon a horse, the stance and the strikes taught in its form were made to cut through horse and rider together. The blade hummed through the air as Beard placed his strike, his blade passing through the stone as easily as flesh. When the dust cleared the sound of splitting enchantment, like the shattering of glass, filled the air and Beard ran and leapt from the back of the temple, just as the great stone moons weight sent it falling through the roof and rolling down the steps in the opposite direction. Four figures rushed in where the warrior landed, and Beard was up and ready to fight in an instant, but relaxed as soon as he saw those before him.
BB and Waverly grinned with relief and Crabs looked as if he was about to cry. Nia stirred within Crabs arms and began to shout and squirm until he dropped her to her feet. “Etria, oh, Etria... I am so sorry.” the girl sobbed as Beard gently lifted the golden haired girl from his back and placed her in her cousins waiting arms.
“Nia, I am sleepy.” The little girl croaked, her voice sore from the scream she had let out earlier.
“Of course, you can sleep as soon as we get out of here.” Etria laughed, petting her cousins hair.
“Where is Hinkel?” Beard barked.
The other two pirates looked to Crabs but the stare returned told all that he would explain later.
“No matter.” Beard continued. “Lets keep on through the village here and to the woods. The winds of this island tell me the sea is not far on the other side, we can call to the ship there.”
The pirates nodded and headed out with the girls in tow and Beard bringing up the rear. The troop made it through the abandoned village without further incident. The bulk of the population had been gathered at the front of the temple awaiting the ceremony and as such this part of the village was bereft of villagers. The forest line was in view when the first sounds of pursuit made it to the parties ears.
“Hurry” Beard growled and the group re-doubled their effort to make it to the woods where they could, perhaps, misdirect their pursuers.
“You will not escape.” A guttural voice called from behind them. Beard turned on his heel, the others turned as well but the warrior met them with a fierce gaze telling them to go on.
“You think to delay me?” the voice inquired, its master stepping out of the shadows with the question.
It's owner stood at a fair seven feet tall, one of the wolf-like creatures the Lidless One had made and yet somehow different. It had a presence unlike the others, a priest changed no longer, this one was something else. As Beard sized up the creature he saw the difference, its eyes were missing from its wolfish face and in its gut their peered a bright red reptilian eye.
“I see you have found a host.” Beard called back.
“I have assumed direct control,” the creature answered, “at least until I find one more suitable.”
Beard brought his sword between himself and the monster. The blade still dripped with the blood of those Beard had slain in the battle before the temple, the semi-sentient blade was most at peace when it was bathed in the blood of enemies.
“You think to threaten me with such a blade.” the creature balked. “I who ruled the beings that forged it in the time you called the Age of Elders.”
Beard studied the creature and grinned. “You have felt the touch of such a blade. Ever the ruled forge weapons to rise against their masters. I know not of this blades origin, but I know the fear that lurks within your gaze.”
The creature convulsed. “So I have warrior. There was a war between my kind and those that we ruled, but you will notice that history speaks of them not, and hear I still stand before you.”
“In a stolen body.” Beard laughed.
The eye in the creatures chest dilated with rage and the beast came in swinging. The warrior sidestepped the creature with ease and sent his blade into motion swinging at the its unprotected side. The beast dove into a roll ending upon its four legs and, gripping the ground, pounced. Beard brought his blade up to block the creatures claws and gaping maw but the beasts weight was supernaturally enhanced and the warrior found himself falling over backwards. Before the monster could dig its hind claws into his unprotected gut, Beard kicked up into the beasts gut tossing the creature on over, the two of them sprawling to get to their feet under them. The beast was the faster and pounced again, but Beard ducked low and brought his blade up in a desperate arc above his head. The creature twisted mid flight and used its naked paws to deflect the blade, slicing their padding but sparing the beast the swords bite in its gut. The familiar lacerations from the invisible blade did not appear on the creature and Beard wondered at this as the two squared off once more and began to circle.
The creature charged Beard and the warrior, seeking to end the fight, drove the sword straight with both hands putting his wait into the thrust. To his surprise the creature neither dodged nor ended up skewed upon the blade but instead blocked the blade with its naked arm, deflecting it whilst allowing the creature to close with its free arm. The beast did not slash but instead grabbed Beard in a crushing hug, its claws digging in to the warriors back, its maw opened wide to bite and tear the head from Beards shoulders.
Beard grinned at his opponent, could he really have forgotten the powers of the blade? The creatures face contorted in recognition of its mistake, to late it tried to release its grip as the shadowy blade disappeared from the warriors hand to reform stabbing from the warriors own body. Once, twice, three times the ancient blade shot forth from the warriors form and found home in the monstrosity. The Tattered Edge was a blade of vengeance and shadow, those that mastered it, those that unlocked the gates of its strength, were granted various levels of its power. One whom the blade had accepted could call it forth from within, from any part of the wielders being to wreak terrible havoc upon its foes.
The creature staggered back, its body oozing blood and gore. The red eye looked on in fear as its host began to pass.
“I could grant you power.” it screamed.
“I have more than enough already.” the warrior responded coldly.
“I could make you immortal.” the god pleaded.
“An affliction I fear I already suffer.” Beard spat.
“I could make you a king of men!” the eye squealed.
“An offer I have refused many times already.” Beard sighed, the massive blade appearing in his hand once more, resting lazily across his broad shoulders.
The red eye squirmed and pulled trying to free itself from its host. It was not ready, the binding took time to undo, time it did not have. The sword came down and the Lidless God saw no more.
“Do you have a way to call the ship?” Crabs asked the other pirates.
“Could build a fire.” Waverly offered.
“And bring every one of those damn beasts coming for us? I think not.” BB replied.
“I could call it.” Beard offered smiling as he exited the forest line and found the three pirates and two young girls trying to decide what to do next. Beard closed his eyes for a second, he hated linking with the ship but could not discount its usefulness. Beard called out into the darkness in his mind. “Satrian, we have need of thee upon the backside of the island, make haste. Your Captain calls.”
“And Satrian answers.” the reply came.
The ragged group cleaned up in the blue waters of the ocean, the interior of the island was alive with the savage growls and calls of the beastmen, it appeared their gods death had not lifted the curse upon those that had fallen to it. The ship came as swift as its word and Beard found himself with another difficult decision as they boarded. He now had in his care two very young girls on a ship full of pirates, who not but a few weeks ago, had been a completely savage group of raiders. Beard had tamed them some, but if his guesses as to what happened to Hinkel were correct, then the girls would not be safe upon the ship.
As he had so many times in the past since returning from his demoness love, the warrior found himself turning the invisible ring, his bond to her, on his left hand round and round his finger. The smell, honey and lilac, came as it always had when he had done this and it always seemed to clear his thoughts. A smaller island lay just off shore of the main island they had just left, nestled within a crescent bay in which they were now moored until they determined their course.
“What lies upon that island?” the warrior asked the girls.
“It is a cursed place with spirited haunted runes. We do not go there, none have gone for generations.” Nia responded.
Beard nodded his head as if he understood.
“Satrian, take us in.” Nia protested loudly but Beard could not be swayed. In minutes he had taken the party that he had escaped the island with, girls included, ashore.
“Where do these runes lie?” the warrior asked.
Nia did not answer, but her eyes glanced to an alcove just a little way in from the shore. The warrior took off towards it with a swift stride the the pirates and the girls helplessly following after. The group soon found themselves within the alcove watching Beard tear vines away from the strange ruins carved into the living stone. Once he had finished the group began to wonder if “ruin” accurately described them. With the vines removed the structure appeared as if it had been carved the day before. It was ornate and perfectly white, carved of a strange white stone that was soft and pleasant to the touch but stronger than any the pirates or girls had encountered. Beard knew it though, he knew it well, it was the stone of his lovers people. Azkanan, the stone of demons.
Within the structure two coffin like pods sat within a track that lead down two tunnels carved into the wall. The pods appeared to fit perfectly, but the tunnels were to narrow for a man to traverse comfortably. The warrior approached a pedestal that stood between the pods and ran his hand gently across the surface. The invisible ring chimed once and a ghostly figure appeared upon the console. The pirates loomed in to take a closer look for the figure was the most perfectly formed woman they had ever seen, they could forgive the horns that sprouted delicately from her forehead and curved perfectly back and around her ears, and her dusky skin color, for the promises beneath her supple white gown.
Beard looked upon the face of his love with longing, but knew this meeting was all that they could have. The demoness' gaze took in the scene before her and she nodded to her noble warrior. “These pods lead to the Dreaming City. None but the girls may come, the city is warded against the intrusion of men, any but the girls would die in the passage.” The demoness cooed.
Crabs fainted. Beard pushed BB and Waverly out of his way, and brought the girls to the pedestal. “Girls, this is Vel'Naren my...” the warrior hesitated “a woman very important to me, these pods will take you to her city where her people can care for you.”
The girls were understandably resistant to the idea. “Worry not.” Beard continued. “There are no men where you are going, and those that live within the Dreaming City worship no gods. I would not have delivered you from danger of one evil only to deliver you to another.”
Vel'Naren smiled from the pedestal and the pods opened revealing beds lined with supple white furs and pillows. The girls clamored, one each, into the waiting pods, Etria falling asleep before the enchanted doors had even finished closing. Beard approached the pedestal once more and the ghostly figure grew from miniature to the size Vel'Naren commanded in person, her projection approached her troubled warrior.
“You have slain an Voidling.” her voice rang like the twinkling of stars. Not an accusation, a fact. Her ghostly hand ran over her lovers chest, he felt naught but as it passed his heart a black symbol appeared, a tattoo of a lidless reptilian eye. “I fear your actions have doubled your affliction, the Godslayer will not be able to ignore this. He will hunt you again if he catches your scent.” the demoness sighed. “Ever do you bring yourself grief.”
“Need I remind you that it is by your will that I returned to these accursed lands.” Beard retorted, not unkindly.
“Not by my will did I have you leave my side. You were called to play the deadly game that all mortals must play, you more than most.” Vel'Naren replied. “Many eyes are upon you veshkathiin, and long shall your toils