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Thread: Shadws of Night pt 1: The Death of Worlds

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    Default Shadws of Night pt 1: The Death of Worlds

    The first part of an ongoing FanFic featuring my main HZ char, Melanath. Criticism, both positive and negative is appreciated so feel free to pick fault with my work

    Pause.
    Let your mind draw back, float free of its moorings. Embrace imagination…
    Close your eyes
    See…


    Light flashed in the dim torchlight, and then there was darkness. It was done.
    The hooded figures drew away from each other slowly, as though admiring their work. The dying dragon still writhed in its chains, even as its blood drained from the gaping wound the knife had inflicted in its neck. Its struggles slowed, became weaker before it drew its final shuddering breath, a breath that one of the impassively staring figures was surprised to hear, was released as a laugh. The yellow eyes of the dead dragon glazed quickly, rolling back in their sockets then half closed, as though the creature was winking at eternity.
    With deliberate care, the one with the knife secreted the bloodied blade into the depths of his robes, and then folded his arms to wait.
    Minutes passed, seeming to last an eternity, prolonging the burning impatience and expectation that raged beneath the seamless folds of their robes. Minutes became hours, and still the time ticked by. And then it happened. As one they sensed it; the spirit of the creature leaving its former habitation, there to return to whence it was bound and be refleshed and born anew. Such was the nature of the Gifted: those that not even death could truly slay.
    The figures sensed that this was their moment. Each took a point of the pentagram that was hewn in to the floor, the pentagram that was slowly filling with the clotted blood leaking like treacle from the fallen corpse of the magnificent creature. Hesitantly, as though afraid, they raised their hands, fingers touching and began to chant. The matra was unearthly, hollow like a dirge, sounding as thought it came from the mouths of the dead; not loud, but the stones shook nevertheless with the power of the words, filling the air with the dust of millennia. The words it spoke were as ancient as the gods and nearly as powerful, simply to hear them spoken would have boiled the mind of a mage and driven heroes to insanity. The spirit sensed its peril and turned, began to leave the confines of the pentagram.
    “Oh no you don’t.? The one with the knife hissed. The chanting grew in tempo, becoming faster as the spell began to take effect. Power cracked the air like thunder, sprks and bolts of pallid magic earting themselves in the stones. The dingy room shook as though struck by a quake, cracks formed in the walls and ceiling, harsh sigils flared along the pentagram; piercing the inanimate corpse at its centre with their malign, bloody light. The freed spirit of the dragon was caught, lashed to mortality by chains that had nothing to do with iron or steel, barred brutally as though skewered upon a meathook of the soul. The body began to shrivel as arcane power surged through flesh never meant to contain such things and within moments it was a desiccated husk, crumbling into ash as the chant reached its climax. Each of the robed figures raised their voices into a horrible keen that struck the invisible soul, rending it, robbing it of the greatest gift ever to be granted to a mortal in a horrible burst of sickening power that left the room pulsing with putrid, pallid light. The chant slowed, the quaking subsided as the sickly light on the sigils faded back into nothingness. The room stank of burned blood and ozone.
    “Did we do it?? One of the shapeless figures asked apprehensively, letting its hands fall to its sides. Within its prison, the forlorn soul hovered drunkenly over the ash of its former habitation, little more than a diminished relic of its former self. The doubter turned to his compatriots, seeing them waiting expectantly, their eyes fixed on the soul.
    “We shall see.? The one with the knife spat.
    With a snakelike motion its hand shot into the pentagram, snatching the ethereal remains of the dragon from the air as though it were a plaything, the soul struggling frantically in its grasp. The figure raised the soul to its hooded face as though examining it, and then bony fingers that encased the spirit closed over it, stifling its light. When the hand opened again, the soul was gone. Silence filled the room. On the far wall, a torch guttered. Triumph was at hand.
    “So… It seems that even the Gifted can die…? It said, turning its hand this way and that, staring at it as though it had only just noticed it existed. “Brothers, I believe we have succeeded. We have found a way to kill the Gifted.?
    The figures remained dispassionate, bowing their hooded heads in response before turning from the pentagram and disappearing into the impossibly deep darkness. Only the one that had wielded the knife remained behind, still staring at its hand, little more than a deeper shade of black standing alone on the shadowy edge of the pentagram. The Withered Aegis, creators of the undead hordes that had for centuries ravages Istaria, now had nothing to oppose them on the path to ruin.
    “A way to kill the Gifted…?

    ***

    The shadows lay long across the ground as the final rays of the sun began to ebb over the edge of the world, sinking below the dark horizon to be reborn the next day like a phoenix. Already darkness stole over the fields and pastures, silencing the creatures of the daylight world with its soothing touch. With the darkness came storm clouds, heavy with the promise of rain come the morn. Even before the evening chorus had sung its final note, owls emerged from their daylight haunts and glided on silent wings, hunting rodents in the long grass. The world was stilled, the whispering of the wind through the boughs of tall Elm and Oak like a eulogy to the day, and to the dead who had fallen with the last rays of the sun.
    “It shouldn’t have been like this.? Melanth whispered, staring out into the impossibly distant sky as the final traces of the golden sun were extinguished, taking with it the pain and anguish of the slain, like the chariot of some merciful Valkyrie. With inordinate tenderness, he leaned across the mortal remains of Jarlneria and closed the corpse’s eyes, then folded her wings across her chest. Already rigor mortis was setting in.
    Somewhere in the darkness a pillar of fire erupted as another dragon burned the piled bones of the skeletal warriors, a low chant began in honour of the dead and those who were too injured to live, but who death was yet to relieve of their burden. Smoke from pyres hung like mist around the survivors, the scent of charred flesh and burning pine mingling with the stronger scents of spilt blood and the sickening, all pervading musky decay of the corpse warriors. The pile of bones exploded with a deafening crack and shower of sparks as the heat of dragon fire calcified the ancient relics, searing away the unnatural magics that animated undead minions of the Withered Aegis. For the longest moment he could do nothing but sit numbly and stare at the former habitation of his best friend, trying in vain to picture in his mind’s eye her joking and cavorting, the way she would float effortlessly on the slightest of thermals, the sound of her laugh…
    “We lost five today.? Iridan murmured gruffly, then saw Melanth crouched by the body, lost in his misery. He seemed moved to say something, but stuttered and fell silent twice before managing to speak.
    “She died honourably brother, none of us can ask for anything more. Not even the Naka Duskael. Today we have won a great victory! Her sacrifice will not be forgotten.?
    “A victory… yes.? Melanth murmured despondently. With the ghost of a sigh he tore his eyes from the lifeless form of his comrade, his love, he admitted to himself with a wrench in his chest. But Dragons, least of all those of the Lunus, did not look back with regret. There would be time for regret some day, perhaps, but battle was still to be had. Now was the time for revenge.
    “A victory, but for how long Iridan? The Withered Aegis will be back, and in ever greater numbers. They always are.?
    “Not very long.? Iridan admitted, grinning, his pearl white teeth fluorescent in the darkness. “The denizens of the Aegis are rallying to the south in an attempt to draw us out. Commander Vanteel had ordered us to send them back to the perdition from whence they came. Rejoice brother! Now is your chance for your vengeance!?
    As Iridan hurried off, Melanth hesitated, lingering for but a moment. By some trick of the darkness and wavering firelight, it seemed that Jarlneria’s chest rose and fell in the slow motions of breathing and Melanth’s heart leapt, thinking she might yet live. The hope was quickly dashed, and where for but a fleeting moment there had been hope once more became hollow as the realisation that never more would she fly dawned. Jarlneria was not Gifted, not Cursed as some were, was doomed to die only once. A mercy, he considered. She would not have to see those she loved perish.
    He reached out, resting a talon on her shoulder, wishing her a final farewell. She looked beautiful in repose; the play of the light on her golden scales mirroring their vibrancy in life. If not for the mark where the fateful spear had pierced, she would have seemed to be asleep. Someday, in whatever realm lay beyond the Prime, he would see her again. But not yet. There was still a job to do, still a foe to vanquish.
    With great, pounding strokes, Melanth lifted himself into the chill air. The moon emerged from behind a cloud, casting a silvery light that deepened the shadows, illuminated the scurrying of his comrades below as their officers bawled them into order. Out to the south the shadows were deepest of all, rising amongst the trees like the tide of death they concealed. Anger filled him then, anger at the loss, anger at the Magi of the Naka Duskael who had unleashed this perverted plague onto the world so many centuries before. He did not know if the reanimated fallen could feel pain, but he was determined to strike them, and strike them until they or the world lay in ruins, and the gods themselves ceased to exist.
    Jarlneria, for you…
    “Goodbye, Jarlneria.? He whispered, and dipped his wings in a final salute before turning to the south, and the fires that were already erupting there.

    ***

    Katrina woke with a start, breathing hard and sweating profusely. That dream… even as she tried to recall it, the last vestiges of the nightmare slipped from her mind, receding into calmness as the sea does after a ferocious storm. With a start she realised that she was shivering, and drew the soft blankets of her bed closer around her body. It was still the dead of night outside. Not even the early rising drudges had yet abandoned their beds, yet she was alert, adrenaline pounding in her veins. Even though the nightmare had gone, the terror lingered. Yet, there was something else that disturbed her; something that had nothing to do with the ichor or darkness that had ravaged her sleep. Even nightmares seemed fuzzy and unreal when confronted with the scant comfort of the waking world but this had seemed real; the stink, the clammy air, even the pain that she could not remember being inflicted. It was as though she had been living the horror through someone else’s eyes.
    Ill at ease and profoundly disturbed, she slipped from the bed and went to stand before the wide window of the bedroom, pushing open the casement to feel the chill night air of her face, to tell herself that she was truly awake and what she had witnessed had been a dream and nothing more. Beside her, the sheets slipped to the dusty floor with a silken sound, unheeded. She stared out over the all consuming blackness, trying in vain to recall what her mind had shown her. Scattered images came to her bidding; the flash and pain of a blow struck, the struggling and terrible, terrible weakness that had followed, but nothing more. She remembered most the fear. The person whose experiences she had shared had been terrified before the final blow had struck; that alone she could remember of all she had witnessed, and she shivered again to remember the burning hot agony as the knife pierced the throat of her host. Then there had been nothing but darkness.
    Katrina didn’t believe in coincidences. Her mother, a priestess, had taught her as much. Nothing happened by chance; “it takes but the fall of a pebble to trigger the avalanche? as she had been want to say. The Gods had a plan, it was said, and everything was done according to their will. But how could she be sure that it had been anything more than a dream? It was like nothing she had ever suffered, not even when as a child she had become lost in the woods for three nights, hunted endlessly by Greymanes. She had known terror there too as she watched the fleeting shapes in the trees, growing ever closer. If not for the passing patrol from Kion she would have died out there, alone unlamented but for a grieving mother and a brother too young to understand death. The dream had felt like she was out there again, with the wolves snapping at her heels, only this time there had been no patrol, no Saris to save her.
    Something wasn’t right.
    She could feel it in her bones, in the very fibre of her being. It was… an instinct; an intuition. Something unidentifiable, but as old as the bones of the world. It burned in her blood like a poison, making her edgy. All her senses screamed that something was amiss, yet she was powerless to stop or even identify it.
    Grinding her teeth in fear and frustration, she turned back to the window and stared out into the pitch blackness of night.

    ***

    Melanth spat fire as he descended, catching a small group of skeletons in the inferno. Dusty bones exploded, tarnished steel sizzled into little molten pools as he and Iridan joined battle. Arrows peppered them from all sides, clattering harmlessly off their thick scales as the two dragons bulldozed their way into the fray. Brittle bones snapped beneath pounding blows, splintered with each bite and lash of a tail, yet for every one that fell another would take its place. The armies of the living dead covered the once green floor of the valley like a plague of locusts, in stark contrast to the scant two dozen or so dragons that held them at bay. They might as well have been trying to hold back the sea.
    Deep in the mêlée that swirled around him, Melanth let go of his restraints, let go of the discipline and martial pride that had ruled his life. There was no fear; he could barely see the raging tempest of brittle bones and empty eye sockets against which he struck. He lashed out at the walls of putrid corpses, striking again and again, letting the fury of sorrow and despair well up from the depths of his being, fill mind and muscle with equal measure. He didn’t need to live that much longer, just long enough to make his mark; a final testament; for honour and respect for Jarlneria.
    An arrow struck his head, glancing off a scaled cheek, gouging deep into his eye. The pain was terrible, the sudden loss of sight disorienting and he stumbled to the mud churned ground. With unnatural speed a skeletal warrior slipped between his forelegs in the moment’s hesitation and drove its dull, serrated sword between the joins of his belly scales, eliciting a roar at the fresh wave of agony from such an unexpected quarter. He shook his head to dislodge the arrow, rearing up in rage and smashing the skeleton into oblivion with his fore talons as he did. The foes surrounding him sensed his injuries, closed in like vultures, ducking and weaving to avoid the slashing horns and tail that held them at bay. He kicked out with his hind legs, feeling something splinter as the blow connected, dodged an axe aimed for his throat and snapped its wielder up in his crushing jaws. The skeletons were without fear, without remorse. They were but as wasps to a creature as large and powerful as a dragon, but their numbers were nearly beyond reckoning. The tides surged again and again, slashing his wings to ribbons of bloody leather before a wide sweep of his tail scattered their bones, felling dozens with each stroke. He was barely conscious of Iridan fighting by his side, others of his kind joining the fray and shouting the fiercest war cries, unleashing flame and fury into the decayed, lifeless heart of the enemy. Battle lines were assembled, the few spellcasters of the Lunus taking station behind the warriors as they worked their arcane arts. The fighting was indiscriminate, unrelenting. For what seemed like hours the dead tried in vain to shift the dragons from their line. Charge and counter charge were attempted, all failing to make an impact on either side. Shattered bones piled chest high before the resolute rank of dragons as they went about their gruesome work; the ground before them an inferno of molten rock and charred soil, their own blood pooling at their feet. Spells and bolts of primal energy rocketed overhead, exploding amongst the undead hordes with brilliant flashes of light. Occasionally Melanth would feel the pain and fatigue leave for a few moments him as one of the mages turned their attention to the defenders, then the desperate struggle would begin anew. All their lives the Lunus were trained to endure the harsh conditions of battle, but even the dragons were being pushed to the limits, only fierce pride in millennia of warrior heritage keeping them in the fight. Occasionally a dragon would howl as it was finally overcome and vanish beneath the masses before its replacement took their position on the battle line and dragged the mutilated corpse of their fallen brother away from the desecration of the vengeful dead. Once amidst the terrible drama a gigantic silver scaled beast toppled over as the effort of its exertions burst its heart, its final agonised cry splitting the air like a thunderbolt. There was nothing that could be done. There could be no retreat, no surrender. They all knew what would befall them should they fail. Throughout the night of fear and pain the dragons of the Lunus did not give a single inch of land to the enemy, and when the golden disk of the sun began it slow ascent into the morning sky, they knew that battle had been won.
    Even as the first rays of a new dawn touched the hordes of the undead, their ranks seemed to waver, their power diminish. Melanth felt his heart soar with the new day as though he was gliding on the highest thermals, the light seeming to fill him with hope and new strength. From his position of the frontline, General Vanteel, spattered with his own blood, shouted an ancient call to arms that burned their hearts with images of glory and charged into the hesitant lines of the skeletons, driving deep into the ranks as bare moments later the rest of his battle brothers followed his example, driving onwards, pressing the brief advantage with shouts and foul curses and laments for the fallen. Melanth was at the fore, dancing through the crowds of enemies with deadly intent, leaving a wake of crushed, burned and dismembered undead behind him. If the undead feared anything, they feared the light. Their strength waned with the birth of a new sun leaving them weak and feeble, lifeless as corpses should be and should forever remain. The light was all that they were not; warm, refreshing, giving life and purity to the world instead of corruption and death. The dragons revelled in the dawn; the first light warmed their blood, making them ever the more deadly. The rising sun awakening in each of them some innate instinct, some unidentifiable connection to warriors past who, like thousands of others on thousands of battlefields, had attacked by the first light of dawn.
    As the dragons launched their desperate, all out bid for victory the ranks of the Withered Aegis crumpled, torn apart by the sheer unexpected fury of the Lunus. The night of fierce fighting had reduced their numbers, hemmed them in against the valley walls as the dead crowded for their chance at the frontline, making the retreat of those in front impossible because of the press of bodies. The light blinded sightless eyes, the skeletons swung their weapons wildly, with little skill and little strength as the dragons cut a swath into the very heart of their formations. The battle should have been over. The dead were quickly outflanked and routed on every front, mown down by the weight of the unstoppable advance. Any sensible commander would have ordered a retreat but the dead had no fear. They did not retreat, did not surrender, did not even have any commanders, but acted instead as though guided by some other force. Everyone knew that other force to be the blighted might of the Withered Aegis themselves.
    In less than an hour the remainder of their forces had been annihilated, reduced to embers or shards. Every last one of the undead had to be destroyed or they would continue to be a blight upon the land for years to come. Sweep dragons took to the air to hunt down stragglers with merciless efficiency, scouring the hilltops and deep ravines for any that may have escaped the wrath of the initial charge. There would be a few at least, who would remain in hiding to poison the land with their foul blight and make it uninhabitable to any of the living races. They had all seen the terrible devastation the blight wreaked upon mortal lands; nothing flourished there, save ash and decay.
    Melanth watched them leave with his one remaining eye, envying them. The rush of battle was fading as the adrenaline receded from his body, leaving him drunk with exhaustion and a splitting headache. Pain that the panic of fighting for his life had forestalled returned with a vengeance; blood dripped from dozens of wounds he did not remember receiving. Pains in his chest and legs foretold of broken bones there, his scales torn and bruised from tremendous hammer blows. He felt cold and dizzy, despite the new sun bringing with it the promise of good weather. The terrible weariness that washed suddenly over him like a black tide bespoke internal injuries from deep stabs and slashes, wounds beyond the skill of his own or others to heal.
    The dizziness intensified, the world seeming to spin and whirl shapelessly around until he could no longer stand and he eased himself to the fire blackened ground, setting his injured paw before him so as not to disturb the fractured limb. He looked around, watching those of his kin who had remained begin to pile and burn the bodies of the slain, incinerating the remains of the corpse warriors well away from where their fallen brothers were being carefully arranged in state upon massive pyres piled high with the weapons of the enemies they had died to defeat. His heart lurched at the thought of Jarlneria lying upon a pyre such as those, her once beautiful habitation incinerated to stop it being resurrected by the Withered Aegis. Some would say she was in a better place, but who could truly know what lay beyond death. If the Withered Aegis had accomplished anything amongst the living races save doom and destruction they had proven to them that death was not the end.
    Iridan sought him out amongst the ruins of the battlefield, found him lying in a spreading pool of his own blood, his breathing laboured and coming in sharp, painful gasps. Melanth returned his friend’s shocked stare, saw Iridan trying to assess the extent of his injuries and laughed sardonically, a laugh that became a hacking cough mid way. He realised with a small start that his heart was beating arhythmically and weakly. Even the pain was starting to fade, replaced slowly by fatigue such as he had never known as the lifeblood drained from open veins. He grunted, swearing, and laid his head upon his uninjured paw.
    “Let us move you at least.? Iridan murmured, placing a comforting paw on Melanth’s shoulder, and then withdrawing it quickly as the action sent fresh waves of agony through his stricken friend. Melanth gave a snickering laugh and turned his single remaining eye upon the large, fiery orange scaled beast.
    “If you try to move me my… guts will spill out over your claws.? He muttered quietly, the single eye blinking once, far too slowly. He coughed again, retching up blood. “What will you do with… the body...?? He asked, finding strength to shift his head.
    “You will be cremated upon the pyre, with the others.? Iridan said, standing to the dragon equivalent of attention in honour of his friend. “You die in honour,? He said, recalling the comforting words he had imparted as Melanth grieved over Jarlneria. “No one can ask for a greater death, not even the Naka Duskael. We stand victorious once more brother. This day will not be forgotten any time soon.?
    “But what about… dead Iridan? Not… a victory for… them…? Melanth gasped, his sight dimming. Only the climbing sun remained clear in his vision as it ascended slowly to the heavens, taking with it the pain and anguish, the sorrow. Soon none of that would matter any more. Melanth drew a shuddering breath, his lungs seeming to be filled with lead even as he inhaled. In the sky, Jarlneria passed before the sun, proud neck outstretched, wings spread wide and glowing in the dawn light, beckoning to him, waiting for him to join her.
    “End it.? He breathed.
    Iridan nodded, moving behind him. Melanth felt a sharp prick in the side of his neck as Iridan’s merciful talons found their mark. As the last of his vision dimmed, that single image remained fixed in his mind as sightless eyes glazed. The last thought echoed through his mind, filling the world even as on the wings of his soul, he flew up to join her.
    Jarlneria, for you…
    Melanath- level 100 ADV/ 60 DCRA -
    Shas Mackard- Saris Berserker/Outfitter et al

    For Lunus, for Dralk! Death before Dishonour!

  2. #2

    Thumbs up Re: Shadws of Night pt 1: The Death of Worlds

    Wow! That was really a moving story, Mel. You're quite the wordsmith. Thanks for sharing.

    Best regards,
    Sent

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