Gary Baker, August 2011
(prologue for a yet-to-be-named longer project)
Thick wafts of brimstone choked out most life within the soupy expanse of fog and steam. Mirror-like silver plate armor cinched tightly around the legs of the light-footed Kaelar champion sliced through the thick steam clustering about tall mounds of sulfuric clay and soil, leaving tiny rivulets of clear air to quickly fuse back into the bleak grayness once more.
The champion paused, his dark gloved shield-hand resting lightly on the hilt of the sheathed weapon hanging upon his left hip. Without the steam his trek would have ended ages ago, but here he was sweating inside his portable steel oven lined with layers of tanned Farsmar hides with the long gray fur facing inward as padding, climbing ever higher in the rocky crags of Mount He’ulis. The dark leather glove of his dripping wet right hand came into view just beyond the edges of his helmets nose guard, holding a damp cerulean gemstone engraved with lightly etched runes. “Brot’an deev a Te desa minae,” came the rough grating of the champions voice, any echo that should have come was lost within the surrounding haze. In response, the crystal flashed white once then pulsed with a darker hue of near-pink.
At first all was silent, aside from the faded sounds of the champions heavy breathing but, as if waiting for such a cue, at his third exhale the fog drew back away from the crystal and then the man holding the stone, until it visibly withdrew in a bubble around him to give a wider range of visibility for his human eyes. “Finally,” he breathed silently.
With a sigh of exasperated relief, the champion of Kaelar wiped the back of his right hand across the lifted visor of his helmet to alleviate the incessant dripping across his face. Checking about, he could not only feel the itchy clinging of his steam-soaked trousers, but also visibly watched as small streams dribbled down from them across the chrome-like leg plates and shin guards to fall noiselessly on the mahogany stones beneath his black leather boots. The black-gripped Templar sword at his side held firm in its ornately carved silver sheath, clinking softly against his left hip, also dribbled condensed water vapor to the ground below which ran toward a darker hued natural masonry. Somehow, the knight noted, in the fog-altered lighting the new rock looked almost burgundy red -- as if the previous rock were covered in some dark liquid of some sort. Odd. He thought to himself.
Something stirred in the distance then, catching his attention from the furthest corner of his vision, bringing his gaze to the continued space of clarity enabled by the enchantment. Suddenly he could tell the exact source of the red coloration, as steam-enveloped bodies amassed within his sight lines Blood, human blood, covered every inch of stone and soil as far as he could see. Some bodies still oozed with what appeared to be fresh wounds from beneath gore-strewn armor. Weapons were scattered like twigs, swords and pikes alike struck from their soldier's hands to rest in the areas all around. Here and there, the champion of Kaelar could see full-sized javelins sprouting from solid crags of granite.
What reason these men had for being so high in the range of deceased earth-spouts eluded his comprehension, and how anything could have caused such devastation was beyond even that.
Quickly he jogged to the nearest body, flocked with small bruises and abrasions that were anything but fatal, and upon kneeling on one knee he felt the concussive force of lingering magecraft seep from every pore from the dead warrior. His senses overloaded with the tingling of ants beneath his skin, of putrid acid pouring through his nostrils, of raw sulfur pressing out of his very taste buds, and the horrible vibrations of age-old noiseless screaming. Taken aback, he ran to a body just meters away to the same result, then another, and another. Finally he stood and wheeled about, nearly losing balance in the sheer impossibility of the situation. He had been sent here by the Council of Greater Fa’Rah, on a mission to discover the source to a wave of anxiety felt in the Great Oak.
And this was it.
It had to be. Death as far as he could see, good men downed like harvested wheat, blood fresh and new even though the farce was recorded by Elvin sages more than a month prior. And all of it caused by one foul-tasting spell. And above all, the champion of Kaelar could tell that the sages were wrong; there was no wave of anxiety that passed through the Great Oak, but a single, loathsome, striking pulse of mourning and fear.
Knowing nothing else could, nor would, be roaming about in such an expanse his gaze only floated up to see a man in a blood-stained tunic turn his head roughly to lock gazes with the champion. His stomach hit his throat and his heart nearly stopped. With magic this thick, nothing that faced it should be alive at all.
“Guarawa!” The champion screamed fearfully, bolting over to slide on his knees in the gore as he reached his friends side. Blood sprayed across his silvery armor, catching in carvings of mystic runes etched in his breastplate, dampening his black gloves and tunic beast-hides beneath. The gore, he noted, would forever blot the gray-black fur of his priceless trophy hunt. But even as he lifted the split chin of his childhood friend, he knew the fur wasn't the only thing to be permanently damaged. His best friend, and forlorn magus ally during times of war, lay breathing heavy gasps of now-liquid free air. “What happened?! Guarawa tell me what did this!”
Guarawa inhaled rough, hard air, with the sound of waves on stone emanating from his lungs. “Kailas…,” the dying magus choked, amassing even more blood to his face. “You came… you came at last.”
Guarawa's tunic should have been white with a horizontal red sword with its blade facing west emblazoned in the middle, Kailas realized, if not for the sheer gore alone. Now the sword was gone, leaving the mage with a solid crimson tunic instead. Kailas sharply tore the gloves from his hands, gracing his already reddened wet right hand across Guarawa's left cheek. He tried to keep his voice soft and yielding, tried to keep the pain out of his tone, but failed miserably to the latter. “Guarawa tell me--for the sake of reason, tell me-- what happened here!”
The mage winced in pain, and tried not to show his fear upon recalling events not long passed. Most men would have missed such emotional maneuvers; to Kailas, however, it shone like the light of the moon on a dark night. “So much… there was no way….”
Kailas pressed his left hand to the mans other cheek and held his own face inches from Guarawa's eyes, forcing the mage to keep his gaze locked. “'So much' what? 'No way' for what?! Give me something -- anything!”
“It pushed too hard… some gave, others fell….”
Kailas bit down his swelling rage at such measly excuses for answers. Choking down his angry rage, he smiled to feign nonchalance as tears began to dive away from his face towards that of his friend. “Guarawa, stay with me! -- you must tell me: what-happened?”
Suddenly Guarawa's eyes cleared of their hazy glare, his face twisted into honest fear and true malicious despair. “A summoning, Kailas! We forced a summoning!”
Kailas dropped the magus’s head back to the stone, not even realizing he’d even lifted it in the first place. His stomach reeled, finally ready to revolt after so much horror. He turned his head about, looking over the men all around him. Not one of them was mortally wounded, not one had anything more than scrapes. No one even had slightly dented armor. Spells would burn holes through their targets, enchantments would affect bodily tissues, and curses would dissolve bodily fluids. None of the above were at work here, and yet the magic here reeked with the sodden certainty of a burning hill of manure.
Guarawa wasn't lying; only a summoning would do this -- but to cause this much devastation could only mean....
Kailas grabbed the drenched fabric of Guarawa's shirt and heaved him into the air inches from his face. He could no longer withhold his emotions, and so rage coursed through his every vein like lightning. “Who did you summon?!”
Guarawa winced. “See, that’s a-”
“Damn it, Guarawa!” He shook the dying mage hard and nearly spit in his face with resentment for his old friend. “Who--did you--summon?!”
Guarawa tried to pull away, his hands finally working enough to shove against Kailas’s face with bloody streaks of panic. “It was no one! Merely a matter of-”
“You son of a bitch, tell me!!”
The mage's face went slack, emotion slipping away as his breath returned to its dying pace. “...The Nocturne!”
Kailas dropped the man back to the maroon stone with a soft thud, mind racing. “No,” he whispered to himself in shock. “No, this can’t be -- you’re lying!” He dropped his eyes to face Guarawa once more. “You didn't -- why in hell, would you?!”
Guarawa whimpered silently. “Kailas, we succeeded! You must save me! Use your battle magic to heal me so we might run! Surely you realize just what-!”
Blood spurted from the mage's mouth and ears, the glistening carved silver dagger from Kailas’s side sheath struck from mid throat through to the flat of his skull. Its point jarred inches from the top of the mage's head. With Kailas’s holding the gold-embroidered hilt tightly, the champion of Kaelar fumed with malicious hate. “‘Save you’?” Kailas moved his face close to the now-dead mage's face. “I just did, you fool! You are the lucky one now -- while you rest in whatever hell-hole that is reserved for deeds like this, the world will suffer for your actions! I pray that the Great Oak understands why you did this, my friend, because I certainly cannot!”
Suddenly Guarawa's eyes shot open, despite his death, glowering with malicious horror. As Kailas reeled backwards, stumbling on another body, the dead mage spoke with clarity that only the living could hold, speaking with the speed of liquid on an uplifted oil canvass. “Hark! The darkness comes! Hearken thy god’s commands and flee, pitiful human! You cannot fight what cometh from beyond! Flee!”
Even as Kailas spun about and dug his fingers into the gravel and mud, sprinting away as fast as possible, the immobile body still screamed for him to run away.