Beard gripped the hilt of the Tattered Edge with grim determination. He knew that one day he would have to be free of it, he had seen its shadowy power that betrayed its powerful magik, but for now he needed its strength for before him stood a creature of myth and nightmare.
The Isenshrike’s multifaceted eyes gleamed in the darkness. Night had fallen and an unearthly gale had blown into the South Eastersea. The sky crackled continuously with the sound of tearing thunder. The Isenshrike’s gears turned and whirred within its bladed body, the brown tattered robe it used to conceal its inhuman form billowed out in the wind, heavy with blood and rain.
Beard switched his stance from the murderous one his sword willed upon him to the subtle fighting form of his youth. The warrior fought to regain his mind and body from the consciousness swirling within his ancient blade. True, it had kept his physical form safe whilst his mind had wandered the realm of dreams, but it had done horrible things as well. Beard wondered if he could ever return to the mainland or if he would forever be known as “the Reaver of the City of Thieves” and “the Prison Butcher of Southport.”
The gears within the Isenshrike began to hum violently, its multi-bladed limbs beginning to shift and move: it, too, seemed to be preparing for battle.
Beard rushed at the nightmare machine, it stood unfazed. The Tattered Edge came down with a harrowing strike that connected with the Ishenshrike’s arm, thrown up in defense. There was a brief spark and a loud CLANK! and the Isenshrike was gone.
Beard searched the shore of the rocky island, the head of a spear jutting from deep beneath the waters of the vast Eastersea, but found no sign of the creature. The Isenshrike had vanished. The warrior returned to where he had made shore and explored the abandoned ship trapped within the rocks. It was empty save for the corpses of what looked like half a crew. Beard shuddered as he found the ships captain tied to the wheel. He only saw glimpses of what the sword did to the mans body whilst Beard’s mind wandered the Dream Realm, but what he could see filled him with sorrow. Beard cut the captain loose and the body hit the deck with a sickening thud, held together only by its ragged clothes.
What have I done? the warrior thought as he stacked the bodies of the dead at the center of the ship. It is little penance, but I will do what I can. Beard rummaged around in the ship stores and found enough powder and lantern oil to set the ship alight, even in the raging storm. After coating the ship in accelerants, the warrior stood upon the bow, staring at the horror-filled eyes of the corpses he had unknowingly made. He tossed a torch into the pile and leapt down from the ship to the shore.
The burning ship behind him, Beard began to search for the Isenshrike once more. In the light of raging flames and lightning flashes Beard saw it, hidden before by the darkness: a door set deep within the stone face of the islands mountain.
The warrior entered the door glittering with the edges of countless blades, he walked the bladed corridor with his own blade shrouded, waiting hungrily in his hand. The floor, strangely grooved and scared, looked worn and ancient. He could not place its make, but it seemed familiar to him. The geometry of the structure was warped and troubling, there were no right angles in the structure rather all lines seemed to end in a narrow dagger point. All the warrior observed exuded a keenness of edge. The structure felt sharp.
The light within was no more settling then the structures mathematics, the interior glowed green with pulsing ambient lamps growing out at odd angles from the walls. They were of curious make, resembling the shimmering backs of beetles, opalescent, perfectly curved. Beard wondered why a creature such as the Isenshrike would bother with lighting: by its nature it had neither senses nor instinct. Beard wasn’t even sure the Isenshrike needed light to see. It was the embodiment of a blade: if blades had a god it may well be the Isenshrike.
As Beard entered a larger hall off of the main entrance tunnel, the warrior had a revelation: though the Isenshrike was a god-killer, it was also an Aesthetic.
The warrior had heard of such beings in the legends of his youth, those creatures that strove for a perfection of beauty, a singular ideal that only they could perhaps appreciate. They called themselves “Natural Philosophers,” but most often people called them monsters. Beard’s ancestors had fought an Aesthetic known as the Poseidian, a creature that had crawled from the depths of the sea, all squirming tentacles, beaks, and eyes. Its touch morphed body and soul into a creature similar to its own bloated form. The pre-Thorgithen warriors had hunted the creature relentlessly to its lair, which matched the creature’s aesthetic and was of strange make as well. Beard found it unsettling that he couldn’t remember if the heroes of the tale had won that battle or not. He had a strong feeling that the tale was in the Book of Accounts, and not the Book of Victories.
The Isenshrike flexed its more delicate blades. It had been some time since it had last been at home, and it would be some time before the warrior found his way into the center of the lair. It had time enough for this. Its bladed feet began to pump the bellows, the air humming through the pipes, matching the strange hum that always followed the god-slayer. The levers and keys before it vibrated with pressure just waiting to be released. The Isenshrike pressed down upon them and began to play.
The tune was beautiful and rang out with angular precision. If it could be defined, the music of the Isenshrike would be described as “fractal.” The infinite repetition, the perfectly interlocking sound forms, it had a delicate grace and, much like the creature that composed it, it cut to the bone. The god-slayer’s tattered brown robe billowed as the pipes of the organ filled the chamber with wind and sound. The whirring gears within the creature’s mouth began to click and chatter with the tune. If its face had been capable of showing emotion, it would have shown that it was smiling. Here within the Hall of Blades, the Isenshrike was at peace.
Beard stalked the bladed halls cautiously. For some time now, a strange music had begun to play within the depths of the great structure, but its unusual angles made it difficult to pinpoint. The shadowy blade he bore began to whisper to him, the Tattered Edge was a blade made for vengeance and many spirits cried out for revenge against the Isenshrike. Against his better judgment, Beard took heed of his blade’s call, removed the shroud it bore, and let it guide him through the metal labyrinth.
The Isenshrike pounded out a final tremendous chord upon the pneumatic organ. The blast resounded through the Hall of Blades and traveled all the way out to the island surface where it dislodged a group of seagulls from their roost. The creature stood and paced the hall. It had grown nostalgic in the time it had spent in the lower realms and so it surveyed the place it had called home for nearly a millennia. It sharpened some blades, shredded a few rats into fine mist, and then pulled a chain on the wall that summoned water from the sea to wash the mess away. It tidied up a bit.
The god-killer registered the padding of the warrior’s feet... no doubt the sword had done the finding: the warrior was skilled but unrefined. With a deft movement of its internal machinery the Isenshrike tore away its tattered brown robe and assumed the form that it had been born into, its many bladed arms extended, its legs shifting into their elongated saurian shape, its eyes glowing deep purple. It had shed the last remnant of it’s guise and was born again as a machine of death.
Beard entered the Hall of Blades, his ancient sword free of its shroud and whispering with shadowed excitement. Before him stood the Isenshrike. The creature had torn away its tattered robe, the grim mockery of humanity it used to move among its prey. Beard felt the hackles rise on the back of his neck: here was a worthy opponent, indeed. The Isenshrike stood a full thirteen feet tall and its ever-shifting body was a mess of gears and blades, its many arms shivering with mechanical anticipation, its eyes burning bright purple as it let out a metallic shriek and bore down on the waiting warrior. The Thorgithen waited with iron resolve, his steely thews rippling as he readied to strike.
The two titans met in a nightmarish clash of blades, the very air around them shuddering under the clash of blows. The Isenshrike, an flurry of ever-shifting blades: axes and long swords, rapiers, and war swords, pikes and scimitars. All flew out at impossible angles from its ever-shifting form. A lesser warrior would have quelled beneath the onslaught and a lesser sword would have been shattered by the blows, but Beard was no normal warrior, and the Tattered Edge no normal sword. The warrior struck back in turn, returning blow for blow, and where he was lacking, the shadow blades of the Tattered Edge struck out at the god-slayer. There was no need for it to hide its nature from its owner anymore, its hold on him was too firm for the warrior to let go.
Beard began to gain upon his foe, his powerful and artful blows pushing back at the precision machine. With a massive shuddering strike, Beard sent the Isenshrike staggering back into the strange piped machine that took up the only wall not covered in blades. The device let out a harmonious wheeze as its pipes burst from the wall. Beard blocked the incoming debris with a shadowy strike and rushed in to finish the god-slayer as it tried to stand.
Something had changed. Was it Beard’s imagination or had the unfeeling god-slayer become angry?
The creature shambled to its feet, its gears and blades whirling with unbridled violence. Beard now found himself fighting an entirely different battle as the Isenshrike struck out at the Thorgithen with all its might. The warrior soon learned what it was to fight a thing that killed gods. Beard’s blood began to splatter upon the floor, but he did not fall beneath the Isenshrike’s blows. He stood and fought with all his strength and yet his frail flesh stood no match against the gleaming iron-form of the god-slayer.
The blows of the Isenshrike cut ragged and deep, and the warrior’s shadowy blade responded. It began to feed its power into the warrior, numbing the pain and driving him onward, slowly destroying his humanity. The god-slayer ham-stringed the warrior, but his legs became wreathed in shadow and he fought onward. The Isenshrike shattered the warrior’s arm, but the shadow-sword bound it in darkness, and on the warrior fought. Through the Hall of Blades the titans battled, Beard losing his humanity, the Isenshrike merely losing its patience.
So it was that the god-slayer took hold of the warrior with its whirling duplicitous limbs and launched a storm of swords into the warrior’s torso. The blades burst from Beard’s back with percussive force, his blood splattering upon the wall behind. The Isenshrike laughed its buzzing metallic laugh and drew back its blades slowly, dropping the warrior to the floor in a heap of bleeding flesh. The warrior’s eyes began to flicker with blue flame, his mouth poured cold steam and fog, and shadows bound his organs within.
“CONCEDE WARRIOR,” the Isenshrike buzzed. “YOU HAVE MET YOUR END.”
Beard’s shadow-driven form began to reassemble.
“IF THAT IS YOUR WISH...” the Isenshrike hummed.
The warrior’s body shuddered as the god-slayer’s blades driven over and over into Beards broken form. The creature’s eyes blazed purple as its limbs grew red with the warrior’s blood. But still the Tattered Edge strove to keep the warrior intact.
“I SEE,” the Isenshrike droned. “THIS WILL REQUIRE MORE SUBTLE TOOLS.”
The gears within the god-slayer whirred and clicked and, from the largest of its appendages, a strange rod appeared and began to rotate. The air in the room filled with static and, with a crackling roar, the rod became illuminated with red electric flame, a blade made of captured lightning.
“GOODBYE, SON OF THORGITHE. LET YOUR TAINTED STRENGTH BE CLEANSED,” the Isenshrike roared as its lighting blade came crashing down.
A loud CLANG! echoed through the hall followed by a clap of thunder. Beard looked up through his bloody revenant gaze to see not one, but two Isenshrikes above him -- the one he fought with eyes of purple, baring its red lighting blade down upon Beard, the other with eyes that seem to glow with an un-light, its blade of white lightning checking the blow of the first.
“UNIT I-76RIK, YOU ARE SUFFERING A PERSONALITY FAILURE,” said this new Isenshrike.
“UNIDENTIFIED HARVESTER, YOU ARE INTERFERING WITH SUCCESSFUL HARVEST. PLEASE COMPLY AND DISENGAGE PLASMA BLADE,” said the familiar, purple-eyed Isenshrike.
“UNIT IS UNCOOPERATIVE,” droned the newcomer. “RECOMMENDING MANUAL RETIREMENT.”
“YOU DON’T HAVE THE...” the original machine started.
“CONFIRMATION RECEIVED,”said the new Isenshrike and the old found itself impaled upon a second blade, thin and long, of white-hot plasma jutting from one of the new Isenshrike’s additional appendages.
The husk of the purple-eyed Isenshrike grew still -- its gears began to lock, its blades ceased their clicking, its eyes grew dim and dark. Beard struggled to get to his feat, but his injuries were too severe. The white-bladed Isenshrike picked its predecessor up by its metal spine and ripped the creature asunder.
“BEGINNING PROTOCOL INFORMATION ASSIMILATION,” it buzzed as thin, clear filaments slithered out of its body and into the husk of the fallen god-slayer.
“INFORMATION RETRIEVED. MISSION ACQUIRED,” it droned.
The creature strode over to the non-bladed wall, regarding the broken pipe instrument with some curiosity before pressing down a set of keys. The machine wheezed without making a true sound and a door appeared in the wall next to it. From the recess, the Isenshrike drew forth a new brown robe, covering itself before compacting into a more human-sized shape.
The Isenshrike dragged Beard’s mangled body from the Hall of Blades and pulled the small chain that cleansed the floor with seawater. It continued to drag the warrior through the labyrinth, pulling the cleaning chains as it went. The warrior found himself carried all the way to the rocky shore upon which he’d arrived. The boat had burned away completely and the gulls had begun to circle to see what red meat had appeared upon the lonely shore. “Finish me!” Beard bellowed.
“I THINK NOT,” replied the new Isenshrike. “YOU ARE NOT YET... READY.”
Beard groaned with pain as the Tattered Edge began to release its grip over his body.
“IT WOULD ALSO REQUIRE CONSIDERABLE ENERGY TO DO IT PROPERLY... IF IT COULD, INDEED, BE DONE,”the creature seemed to laugh, it sounded like a swarm of angry wasps being boiled alive.
With a loud CLUNK! the Isenshrike was gone and Beard the Immortal watched as the gulls flew down to pick at his entrails.