by C.M. Galdre
The warrior stood transfixed, his arms pulled to his sides, his feet mired unseen, held heavily in perfect darkness, the air thick like clotted blood. Beard strained to stand straight, his iron thews bulging against the unseen forces that bound him. His eyes flashed pale blue in the endless night, glowing with impotent rage, his furrowed brow gleaming with the sweat of his fruitless battle. A fel wind drew the warriors gaze, a pale light pulsing in the distance casting a cold ice bitten hue upon the ground. A vast expanse opened up before the warrior thirsting eyes, an endless desert of shifting ebony sand.
The world bore no horizon but Beard raised his gaze upwards none the less. There was no sky to greet him, no light of stars nor the gentle curves of storm brewed clouds, only oppressive shadow weighing down heavily from above. Never had the warrior seen such a sky, not black as the night but deeper, its hideous implications held his gaze with grim fascination, its murky depths drinking the very light from his skin.
“What sorcery is this, that the sky may bear such terrible weight.” Beard growled as he strained once more against his unyielding bonds.
The pale light grew and by its mazarine rays the warrior saw his hands unbound, his legs unshackled, and yet still he could not move. Grim sorcery in a grim land, thought Beard.
As the light grew so did the weight upon the warrior lighten, as if the shadow itself was lifted from him by the strengthening glow. Beard flexed his limbs as they were freed from their ensorceled bonds, his gaze turned to the source of the pulsing light and he found his feet urging him towards it. The warrior relented to the will of this strange land and trudged through the thick black sand. Each step sinking into its depths. Each step leaving a dark pool in its wake. Ahead the rays of azure light pulsed from behind a shadowed dune, the crest wavering in the warriors vision as if aflame.
Despite the difficulty of moving through the the obsidian sands Beard quickly crested the dune that blocked his fevered gaze from the source of the mysterious light. Below him the desert descended to a single point at the center of which lay a black pyramid reflecting the pale blue light from a single glassy face, the others seemed to drink in the light that fell upon them as they emitted their own glow from within, gold and white, like the stars that should be within the sky above, all the heavens trapped within its terrible geometry.
Beard staggered on, his sinuous chest dripping with sweat from excursion he did not feel, and in the pale blue light the black mark of the voidling, a grim token of a past battle, seeped to the surface of his skin as black as the non-sky above him, a single lidless eye terrible and saurian, glistening in the endless night. The great pyramid loomed before him, growing ever larger as the warrior drew closer to its cyclopean forms. Each stone of the great structure, whilst irregular along its joints, was perfectly sloped and polished. Even the giants of old could not have placed such masonry as the mighty slabs were a great many times taller than the tallest giant in the annals of history.
At the base of the mighty structure the warrior encountered two great doors of gilded gold, its motif both linear and abstract. Gazing upon the abstruse patterns unsettled the Thorgithens iron gaze and he found his stomach turning as he was drawn to its fearsome geometries. He trudged closer and turned his gazed away from the deceptive edifice and focused upon the shifting sands beneath his feet. The doors opened with a cacophonous sigh, the air within billowing outwards and carrying the cloying scent of age and decay. Driven, the warrior pressed on, into the shadow and darkness within the pharonic structure.
The doors opened to a vast hall, the ceiling hidden in darkness, the walls lit with the same pale blue glow that the outer structure emitted. Here too the stone was deep black glass, within which one could barely make out what looked to be the constellations and stars of a clear night sky obscured by the stones own dusky hue. As the warrior strode forward the hall filled with music, the voices of goddesses seemed to fill the air, pure and clear, with clarion horns accompanying. Such sounds of drums filled the air as well that the warrior felt as if he was being welcomed home from war, but there was a sadness in the resplendent tones. This was not a song of a warrior new, it was a song for a warrior remembered.
His heart heavy, his eyes welling with tears Beard entered a vast central chamber. Overhead the ceiling was in perfect view, the cosmos unraveled and circling slowly the center of the massive vault. The walls were adorned with a thousand battered shields and notched blades innumerable, the banners of a hundred nations and tribes lay at their feet and the spoils of a hundred campaigns filled the surround. Upon a center dais sat a throne of carved stone, majestic and regal, lit by the light of a single star from the ceiling above. Within the seat sat a desiccated corpse in effulgent regalia, battle armor worthy of a king of kings. A breastplate of mirror-worked ebony embellished with polished gold graced its noble chest. Pauldrons of smoked iron, gilded in gold, and trimmed with wyrmscales and a cloak of shimmering black velvet adorned its kingly shoulders. It's greaves and gauntlets were gold-work over folded star-iron, adorned with cinder black gems that sparkled in the chambers starlight. The helm upon its head was a solid mask of ebony and gold which bore no facial features but gave the impression of an ensorcled eternal gaze topped with a crown of shimmering gold horns from beasts both known and unknown. The long dead kings right hand rested upon the pommel of a magnificent sword, heavy and well worn, it still gleamed in the light of the chamber. At his feet there lay a hundred crowns, broken and bent.
As Beard approached the heroic dead a voice called out to him, its familiar demure tones tugging at the warriors heart, but this voice was not that of the warriors lover, but another of her ilk, a demoness appeared from behind the throne. The warrior saw at once that this was some spirit or spawn of sorcery, the woman’s delicate form appeared to be woven of moonlight, her body transparent and no shadow did she cast upon the marble floor. She bore a strong resemblance to the warriors own Vel'Naren, a demoness he had encountered in his youth and occasionally when his need was great after he returned from the twilight realms a man in his prime.
The spirit's eyes were solid black and held no light, their bleakness detracting nothing from their perfect almond shape. Her hair was a gossamer silver and her skin was as pale white as her gown, but her pink tinged lips still held some of the color she may have once held in life. The specters slightly pointed ears and tall ibixan horns that grew gracefully from her forehead betrayed the lineage she held in life.
“Warrior” The fey called “Step no closer to the dais, for hear in this place you will find only grief and death.”
Beard halted his advance and called out to the creature. “To whom, o spirit, do I owe the honor of this fair warning?”
“One who loved in life one much like yourself, I am the queen of he who sits upon the throne and nothing more.” She replied, as she gazed mournfully upon the corpse seated next to her. “In life he was the Emperor of the thousand kingdoms of the sands, a warrior lord who united the people of the burning wastes under a single banner, his black clad legions united a people long broken by gods and tribal warfare. Firstborn of the house of Shadow, a name which bares a different meaning in the burning wastes than it does in the cold north from whence you come. Can you not read the runes inscribed upon the seat of the king? Are they so different from your own, for they share a common root.”
Beard shook his head in part because he could not read the runes, and in part of disbelief to that which he was hearing.
“They read Tu Rin Da Narin Gol, Emperor Rin of the honorable house of eternal shadow.” The demoness whispered as her delicate fingers pointed out each rune.
Beard took a step back from the throne, for hear sat the corpse of Turin, he who raised the wall and was struck down by his ancestors, kings of their own lands and men of legend. But in no writ was their mention of Turin's burial in such a chamber, and now that the warrior was facing this man from the mists of time, he could not recall the language of his defeat being explicit about the sorcerer kings death.
“How?” The warrior bellowed.
“He came to me,” the ghost cried “he came to me after the battles in the north, but he was not the man he was when he left my side.” At this the specter recoiled from the throne, and Beard too felt and ill presence emanating from the armored corpse. The spirit drifted close to the warrior and lay her icy fingers upon his muscled chest. “A shadow rises in the south, a new power reborn from old. He too bore the mark you now wear upon your chest, but from his,” And the demoness trembled “...from his a living eye opened and peered into the world.”
The warrior glanced over the spirits shoulder to the throne and saw that the body there was now emanating a black-red shadow, like a vile fire smoldered beneath the armors jointed plates.
“By my craft I bound him, but in so doing I was bound as well, to him, to this place. My body lays like rubbish among the tribute that fills this cursed hall.”
Beard stared down into the matte black eyes of the ghost before him, behind her the sound of metal tearing filled the hall as the faceless mask was rent in half, a terrible grin splitting it in half with too large teeth gleaming in the dark. The maw opened to reveal a saurian eye filled with rage and the warrior felt his chest burn where the ghosts icy fingers still touched the black mark of the voidling.
“The shadow rises, he who bears the mantle of darkness shall be surpassed by he who comes after and the world shall know a second breaking. I pass the last of my grace to you warrior, and to the one who holds your heart.” These final words spoken in haste the delicate spirit took the warriors mighty face into her death cooled palms and placed her lips upon his brow before vanishing into nothingness, the corpse king rising in her wake.
Beard belted from the hall, he knew not the nature of this world into which he slipped but he knew that he bore no weapon that could strike down the foe before him. In his tread a hungering shadow spread, chasing him down the cyclopean hall. Out the massive doors, the warrior burst and into the black shadow-scape where he first awakened to this world, above him the oppressive dark of the sky now focused upon a single point above the pyramid, a nameless malice drawn like flies to a corpse. There in the non-sky stretching wide, a thin yellow eye appeared to be opening as if from sleep, its pupil thin and black and filled with a slowly awakening hate.
As the pyramid began to collapse and burn with black fire, the warrior felt a cold wind surround him, his form grow less substantial, and slowly the nightmarish world faded away into nothingness. Heavy laid the warriors eyelids as he began to wake from his shadow haunted dream. The red-orange light of the sun broking through the dark of sleep and filled Beards eyes rousing him.
“He sleeps like a trance-born.” a small delicate voice chirped to the warriors left.
“Aye, but he's coming out of it now.” a man growled to his right.
Beard awoke to the hot sunlit smell of morning, and the pungent aroma of a soothsayers incense. The images of the battle fought with the Isenshrike before falling unconscious raced all at once to the forefront of his mind.
“Again I am haunted by dark dreams.” Beard groaned.
“I don't know much about dreams,” said the man to Beards right, his name, Samhaim, slowly coming back to the drowsy warrior. “but you sure had a fevered fit. We thought we might lose you there for a while.”
Beard donned a sardonic grin. “If death came to me in such a way, it would be the final joke this life has to play on me. No, Samhaim, I do not think that was ever a chance... I am prone to such fevered dreams as of late. I would have awoken regardless of your efforts.”
“Though they are appreciated.” The warrior added after seeing the girl, her arms covered in drying poultice, cast a downtrodden gaze.
Beard surveyed his surroundings, he was in a simple stone cave in what appeared to be a lush old growth forest, the walls were covered in strange runes and seemed to be plastered with both blood and black feathers.
“The Raven goddess is dead but it seems she still has power that reaches from the grave.” Beard mused in the direction of the old man, who appeared a tad younger now then he had not a day before when they had met before the battle with the Isenshrike. “I distinctly remember you were quite a mess after your battle with the godslayer.”
“Aye she is, and you didn't fare so well yourself.” Samhaim chuckled. If not for the Lord of the Wood, I think we both would have found ourselves mounted on the bladedancers iron pikes. “
At this Beard nodded gravely. “I sensed a presence there before the deep sleep took me, it reminded me of the Mother Wolf, Wuthweirgen to whom I am son-sworn.”
“Yes, that was him. The great Stag. He left before the dawn, said that the time of the Old Gods is long since past, and now was the reckoning for all gods, new, old, or otherwise.” said the old man. “I think he has cooked up a parting gift of some sort for young Erio here, and then he plans to depart to wherever gods go when they get tired of the waking realms.”
The young girl blushed at the mentioning of her name and bowed her way out of the room to let the two veteran warriors speak.
“So what now, Beard of Thorgithe? Some ill fate drew you far from your lands and I sense even now a fel shadow in your wake. Where does the wind take ye next?”
“I have wandered these seas looking for a way home, when last I attempted to return a great cyclone of water threw me back at great cost to myself and my ship, and so I look for some other passage home. I was drawn here when my sword was stolen by that imp that was slain upon the shore, though now I know myself to be a fool for my sword was with me all along and only by fiendish sorcery did I think it had been taken from me. I am lost Samhaim and dark have been my dreams.” Beard lamented.
At this the old man was quiet for a time before recollection dawned upon his face. “You seek the demon isles.” he said with a grin. “Not far from here, a little ways to the south and west, on the edge of the Tempest Seas there is a cluster of isles that still hold the technology of the demon race. My memories are old but I think that there is an isle that still holds a city that may hold something that can help you pass through that which blocks your course. I have heard of this thing you have described before as a demonic curse, though knowing that race it is more likely to be some strange machination from a lost age. The only problem is that the city is locked by demurite key and such things are even more rare than living Old Gods.”
“What does such a key look like?” Beard inquired with grim determination.
“My mistress showed, well, let me hold one once.” The old man laughed, the skin covered holes where his eyes once were forming disconcerting shapes as he did so. “It was a small box with some weight to it with grooved lines covering its surface. My mistress told me it glowed when it grew close to a device that could use it.”
At this Beards eyes grew wide, and he dug quickly round in his belt pack for the strange cube he had found upon the Isle of Beg not long before he was sent upon this fools errand of recovering is non-lost sword. He located it swiftly and handed it to blind Samhaim whose face grew pale and shocked as his fingers ran over the things etched surface.
“By the Raven... this is a demurite key... you have what you need warrior to enter the city! But be wary, though the city is said to be empty of the demons it once held it still dreams that they walk the streets and that there are sentries there that still walk as if their masters still slumber within their dream creches waiting for the old stars to die and be born anew.”
“I fear no demon or there machines.” Beard replied curtly taking back the key, but his heart jumped for his own demoness now slept away her days within such a creche though she would not tell him where or why, for his sake and hers so she had said.
“Then go warrior, and find your way home.” said the old man. “Your ship still lies moored by the shore which you may find straight south of here.”
“What of you?” Asked Beard.
“There is something yet left for me to do it seems.” Samhaim sighed as he surveyed his surroundings. “It will be hard on the girl for the Forest Lord and myself to depart, but I feel that there is something for her to do now as well in this time before the end of times.”
Samhaim and Beard clasped sword arms with a hearty shake, with their guard arms on the others shoulder. “May death find you with a sword in your hand, and your foes at your feet.” They intoned together.
“It is a time of parting and new beginnings young Thorgithen.” Samhaim whispered as Beard left the cave for his ship, “May you finally find what you seek.”