by C.M. Galdre
Beard sat within the belly of the Satrian Falx, his ship by right of conquest and blood, a sentient creature created before the Rising of the Wall. The emptiness of the warriors shell consumed him, the blade that had been his curse and his companion torn from him by a shifting creature of the Naughtrealm. The Tattered Edge, the blade of the first revenant, was gone and so was its bittersweet hold upon him.
The warriors veins burned with liquid flame as he felt for the first time the full effects of the voidling's cursemark upon his chest. It too granted powers Beard did not yet understand, but never before had he felt the price it claimed. His skin shivered between waves of searing heat and burning cold, his veins rose from beneath his skin, sweat dripping like rivers down from tall mountains. Beard was certain such pain should leave a mark upon his flesh, but his skin was unblemished.
Beard let his mind wander back to his intensive training with Brög in his youth, training as brutal as it was necessary. Yes, this was just like the pain tents of the bone casters, perhaps this pain was even less than that. He focused upon the memory: the sweat, the blood, the droning chants and heavy smoke, the sharp crack of dried ice nettles as they raised angry red welts across his naked skin. The warrior sighed as he made the pain a part of him as he had then, dividing it with his mind and turning it into raw energy.
“Satrian.” the warriors mind called out to the wyrmship, to which he shared a small bond “I am ready.”
Runes within the ancient ship glowed in eldritch hues, pulsing between unearthly greens and otherworldly yellows. The dark wood planks beneath Beards legs pulsed and softened, becoming flesh like. The warrior sat calmly as his body sank chest deep into the undulating mass. His eyes closed as Satrian took hold of his mind to guide the rite that bound captain and wyrmship, a bond long prevented by the will of the Tattered Edge.
Beard was free of the taint of the blade but could still sense its presence, its thirst, its power. The northman felt incomplete, the sword drew him. There were many reasons for the joining now which would not have been necessity earlier, Beard meant to leave the crew and keep the ship and Satrian needed a stronger bond to survive the severing. Beard would have to feed the ship the life force of two dozen men to maintain the ships strength, no small task, but then Beard was no longer a normal man. He needed only to gaze upon the strange marking upon his chest, or twirl the hidden ring about his left hand to be reminded of that fact. No longer a man, but something more. Perhaps something less as well.
The lidless eye, the black mark left by the voidling upon the warriors chest burned at the intrusion of wyrmships will. Beards lips contorted in a sardonic grin, he had gained one freedom only to allow another being more hold upon him, and worse, so that he could make himself a vessel for the shadowed blade again.
“Warrior” The wyrmship Satrian's voice boomed within Beards mind “for one who claims to dislike the delicate arts of Magik you are bound by bonds stronger than any I have encountered”.
“Oh?” said Beard “I am aware I carry some... taint.. from my travels but no more than some lesser wizard might encounter.”
“Not so.” Satrian continued. “It is all laid out here within you, bonds I did not see before shrouded by your swords own impressive auras.”
“And?” Beard growled. “What is it that you see?”
Satrian paused briefly, considering the warriors temperament before answering. “The oldest appears to be a wolfs paw that hovers slightly over your heart, it gives off a warmth I find hard to describe, second appears to be two rings bound by a serpent eating its own tail a crown of stars upon its head, third I see a drop of blood bound in lightning, old magic all of them. They are as much a part of you as I shall become when this is complete, though most likely they are already more. I can maneuver around the lidless eye that bears its mark upon your chest well enough. I may even be able to channel the burning energy it pulsates into your veins. Your mind tricks will not hold forever.”
Beard suppressed a grumble, uncomfortable with the creatures ability to read him so well already with the binding not even complete.
“Steel yourself warrior, I will begin to release the crew.”
The shock of the release and new drain upon Beards life was staggering. The warrior exhaled as if gored by a boar as the pain of the new connections took hold. Satrian seemed affected as well, the timbers of the ship groaned and shuddered, the runes within the hold flickering as the transfer was made. The warriors mind began to blacken, his vision blurred and in the very root of his gut he felt a sudden lurch.
Sunlight filtering down through a reddish dome, a bright white crack appearing along it's curving surface. A moment blinded until eyes adjust to the brilliant unfiltered light of the sun. The urge to move, to wriggle and squirm. The crack widens. The dome falling away, revealing a bright blue cloudless sky. The air full of the scent of hot ozone. The wind whipping around the domes exterior. The urge to stretch, to move towards the crack of light. Body coiled as muscles try new strength, moving ever towards the crack, bursting forth into the burning sun, the dome falling away, the rush of freedom as burning air fills the lungs. Beard felt the hot sand upon his scales. No, not his, Satrians.
The sand feels good, he burrows through it, his powerful wedge shaped face dividing the glassy grains as he slithers towards a massive figure in the distance. Mighty scales as large as the tower shields of imperial legionnaires encase the form before him, amber eyes glaring down in fierce pride, a mother wyrm watching her clutch hatch and taste the flavor of the desert sun. In the distance, a black obsidian pyramid glistens in the sunlight, no, not one... but three one larger and two smaller and the sounds of drums carrying upon the wind.
“Warrior” Satrian called. “How do you fair? That was quite a shock.”
“I will survive this as I have survived all else.” Beard growled.
The shock of being returned to his body from the memories of the wyrm wore off swiftly. It was unsettling how adaptable the human mind could be, or perhaps it was just his own stubborn will that kept the warrior from cracking as his mind traveled within and without his body so often since the murder of his father. It seemed like an age ago, these many weeks at sea played with time in a way that Beard was unsure if he had been weeks, months, or years since he had woken up upon the shore of the isle of blades and began his adventure anew. Perhaps it did not matter.
“Prepare yourself!” Satrian boomed once more.
This time Beard felt the tie of life force being undone, like a constrictor uncoiling from its prey, and he felt it, like a viper, striking and embed its fangs into his considerable presence. There was no fading this time, only the immediate dark.
Beard slithered across the sandy dunes, no Satrian slithered, the warrior merely partaking in his memory. His ovoid nostrils flared to drink in the plethora of scents that danced upon the desert wind. The musty serpentine smell of hundreds of his kin surrounded him. His slitted amber eyes darted across the landscape, the desert was alive with wriggling bodies and gleaming scales. He could feel their destination within strange fluid filled sacks within his ocular cavities, an internal homing beacon bringing the wyrms to their ancestral home. There were wyrms of all ages slithering to a single destination, the oldest wyrms singing in their deep aged voices. They sang of the desert, of the wind, and of the sun, of the old days before men had tried to tame them, before the rising of the black pyramids, before the blighting of the desert. It was an old song full of pride and sorrow, and Beard found himself taking up the song as well. No, Satrian. Satrian took up the blasted song... why was it so hard to remember?
The wyrms gathered before a dais of broken stones, the elders had once spoke of wyrms that could weave the earth, but none were born now that had the gift. Beard swelled with pride as his father emerged from the hole in the center of the stones, the lair of the Zathis, Tribelord of the desert wyrms.
“Sons of the sand!” the great wyrm boomed “The Shadowlance has been born, the time of the severing is upon us, we must prepare or be destroyed.”
“Satrian?” Beard inquired as he blinked his eyes wearily into waking, “Was your father a king?”
“This time I think we shall sever a few bonds at once.” Satrian replied wryly.
The warrior barely had the chance to register the impact..
The air shimmered with static as a thousand wyrms burst from the desert sands. Before them a field of black as far as the eyes can see, the armies of the Shadowlance dressed for war. The wyrms charged in all their glory, their bodies painted by tribe, the marks denoting their rank. Beard no damn it Satrian! leading, knowing his face bore the mark of a battle leader. His chest swelled with pride as well as fire as he launched the first assault upon the black clad troops. The air filled with the smell of burning ozone as the fiery blast from the great wyrms lungs burst upon the jet black troops. The cries rang out from the distressed ranks as the entire first legions were turned to ash, the sand beneath them cooling into sheets of shimmering glass. A dark laugh rang through the air. All held quiet for the power held within the laughter could be felt in both the hearts of men and beast. Then, chaos. The ground exploding beneath the war bent wyrms, the shades of its destruction flashing in brilliant vermillion and emerald hues. PAIN.
Beard returned to his own mind in a rush, cold sweat covering his shaking body. The red and green after images still emblazoned upon his eyelids, a single curse upon his lips. “Turin” Beard exclaimed. “Turin was the Shadowlance.”
“So, you are still alive.” Satrian interrupted coldly.
“For the good of us both that I am.” Beard laughed. “I begin to wonder if I even can be killed.” The warrior continued soberly. The thought of being denied a glorious death was even more troubling than the implications of being bound to the wyrmship. Perhaps that is why he had grown so reckless, Beard no longer cared one way or another. The damn ship could suck away all his life and still the warrior would go on, vengeance was all that mattered, retrieving the sword, returning home, finding the traitor Brög. Until the traitor lay gutted at Beards feet he would not die, could not, and would do anything to achieve his goal.
The warrior shrugged off the lingering feeling at the back of his mind, the memory of perfect starlit orbs that had once gazed into his, and that he had been taunted with not a few hours before by the skinshifter that had taken his blade. Perhaps there is more than vengeance. The warrior pondered, then quickly set aside those thoughts. To dance the dance of blades and think of not but glory only invited ruin. The warrior steeled his mind and stoked the flames of glorious revenge within his heart.
“Warrior, the crew is trying to depart. I must... release the rest.” Came the call from Satrian.
“I am ready.” Came Beards steady reply.
Beard looked out through Satrian’s uneven, blood filled eyes. His right eye well cut, its vision split and red, but the left could still make out the scene as he drank it in. Pain. Like nothing he had ever felt before, and a pervading cold that shook him to his core. He moved, but not of his own volition, the rasping sound of his scales being drug over a stone paved road filled his ears and the smell of strange beasts filled his nose. Ahead two creatures lashed to heavy ropes struggled and strained at the bonds that lead back to the wyrms body. All around, black clad men held rods that glimmered with scintillating blood red light. Beard raised his eyes to gaze beyond the beasts and saw a great gate of slick black stone. Between its massive pillars an object was tethered, heavy and swaying slightly in the breeze. The warriors eyes adjusted to the light and saw the darkened shape of his fathers head, blood long dried and eyes milky white, rotflies buzzing all around it. No, not his fathers, though the situation felt similar, Satrian’s father Zathis had been slain, the armies of the wyrmkin broken.
Beard shuddered as pain filled his body with renewed vigor, his eyes rolling back into his skull from the force of it. Only when it had subsided did the warrior see a black shrouded man step back from him, pulling the crimson rod back from his body. Ugar rods, the name returned to him. The implements by which the men of the desert tried to tame all things, cowing them with the powers of pain. Blood spilled from the warriors mouth and splashed upon the dusty stones. The man moved to the pack beasts and urged them on with the ugar rod, and the body Beard inhabited was dragged swiftly through the city.
The people around the the wyrm jeered at his presence, some spat, others cheered, a few young boys threw rocks. The broken wyrm could barely register them, even those that drew blood. The buildings gave way and the warriors nostrils were filled with the smells of salt and something he could not register. Vision fading in and out, Beard watched through Satrians eyes as the scene became clear. The pack animals had drug him to the edge of a massive pit next to a vast stretch of water, blue going on and on to the horizon. But it was not the ocean that held his attention, it was the contents of the pit. Hundreds of wyrms lay wriggling in their death throes, throats slit and eyes rolling back in terror. On one side of the pit, Beard saw red robed men overseeing the opening of egg clutches. Men with backs tanned dark brown by the sun dripped with sweat and blood as they reached inside the split eggs, long knives in their hands, and slit the throats of the unborn wyrms inside, dumping the contents into the writhing slough.
Beard felt a man approach, his footsteps heavy, the smell of his sweat mixing with the smell of blood that covered his arms. The warrior felt the cool edge of a steel blade glide smoothly through the tough flesh of his neck, an enchanted blade, no natural steel could cut the hide of a wyrm so easily. The warriors eyes fell slowly, scanning the pit as his body fell into its depths, resting finally on the head of a single wyrm panting out it's last breaths. The eyes of his mother stared back, the light in them fading to nothingness.
“The binding is complete warrior.” Satrian sighed wearily. “I will need to rest for some time before we disembark. I suggest you do the same.”
The black wood floor of the ships hold slowly released its grip upon the warrior. Beard sat in the darkness, his eyes filled with fire, his hand wrapped round the hilt of a blade that was not there.