Kale saw nothing but darkness; a barren, vast black with no end. He sat on a rough leather saddle, maybe ten years old. He could feel the wear and ripples from over usage. His hands he found to be bound tightly, a searing pain prickling his wrists, as he tried to adjust himself. He was on a horse, he knew that much, but everything else he was completely unawares.
He did not know where Ekin was, nor where he was. He presumed Ekin was with him, somewhere, taken captive. What if they found out? Whoever they were? What if they discovered Ekin’s true person? Kale’s heart drummed to a halt as he thought of the unnerving questions. His head rung with a high drone and it felt extremely heavy, so heavy that he could not keep it upright. With the horse’s great strides, he swayed with the movements, his head swiveling by the neck like a flower with a large bud, droopy.
As he pounded against the leather saddle uncontrollably, his bottom soar and screaming in pain, he could feel himself brush the back of something. It was cool and hard, like ice. It felt like scales, iron scales that sung in a high chink as he skimmed them. It was armor, Kale knew. The steel clapped against each other, singing high and sharp. The thunderous rumbles of the horse drowned the sounds, as if the very earth was quaking. Kale could know hear more than just his horse, there were many, all clopping across what sounded like dry grasslands.
Kale lingering on the edge of sleep for a good while with the constant sounds repeating like a heartbeat until he surrendered to the seductive blackness, and plunged into shadow.
The darkness consumed everything, until he found himself flying across a dark and vast landscape of burnt grass and grey rock. Ash fell from the sky and the mist glowed red. He came to mountains, massive mountains held in their clutches a great fortress. The darkness was alit with the red flames and beacons of light that glowed form the heart of the immense palace and he could see the spiking black towers slicing through the red sky like talons and the hulking walls stark and colossal.
He had never seen anything so big, not even Tarar, not even Vaelon. This structure surpassed everything, so big that it was as if it was scaled for dragons. It was too large for giants, and the towering gates rose up more than one hundred feet. What was this? Kale thought as he swam through the mists overhead, looking down at the gigantic palace of black and red.
Then there was a rumble, a great roar that bellowed from the east. It was loud, and monstrous. Then it came barreling in, hard as stone, a giant wave of water. The shifting wave curled and rose never breaking. The deep black water shimmered with gold and silver, streaks of it glistening. This was no ordinary wave. It had come all the way across Runir, from the Endless Sea and on to the far west, to the Mountains of Shadow.
The night had been silent and still before, but now the sea erupted like thunder and rolled through the flat rock earth. Massive silver horses stampeded along through the darkness, until the crest of the wave broke and the entire weight of the sea cam crashing down. The gilded horse of froth drove down into the black place and in an explosion of silver and gold water, the fortress was engulfed in water.
The sea churned and the silver and gold ate the city alive, imprisoning the palace under their great blanket of water. The roaring never ended, eternal and thunderous. The palace was destroyed, eaten alive. All was silver and gold; all was washed away.
His dreams were shattered like shards of broken glass when he heard a loud a gruff voice, “You think these are the ones?”
Another answered, “For sure. Have you seen the ones blade? It’s forged of aldava steel, you know what that means.”
“So its true.”
“Indeed.” Said the second voice. “No body else has ever used aldava steel nor ever found it. It’s said the Knights sent their men down south, past even Hhad to find it. For sure this is the one the Master’s looking for.”
Kale awakened abruptly from his sleep, and listened intensely.
“What about the other?” Asked the gruff voice. “He’s just a boy. Why would a Knight of Abelon be traveling with a child?”
Kale wanted to answer back and shout I am no child, but he abstained.
“We’ll find out soon enough.” Answered the second voice, “We’re only about a day’s ride away now. Soon enough, I grant you, we’ll see the full story.”
“We’re making good time.” Said the gruff tone. “Three days on horses, very good I reckon. When I was younger it took me six days on carriage. Fancy Master will be pleased.”
“I hope.” Said the second voice. “Every since the Oppressive One came, he’s been a little…different.”
Kale tried to calm his breathing, but he just couldn’t. They’re taking us to the Oppressive One.
The darkness was eternal and much of the riding Kale slept, weary of their trek through Varrin. Following his dream the other day, none had come to him through his slumbers. All was dark and sullen with the usual pounding of the horse and the flames of pain licking his thighs.
As he fell through the endless levels of darkness, he was roused by the sound of a great horn, brazen and deep. The bellowing moan thundered through Kale’s ears and vibrated painfully. When the sound groaned to a soft halt, another rumbled from the other side of him. Then another rung and another, until there was a single grand chorus of horns singing through the black skies like smooth thunder.
The horses roared on across the earth like an avalanche racing down a mountainside, the sound deep and stentorian. The writhing banners hissed in the air as the bannermen hoisted them high above their heads, the red hand of the Oppressive One flapping in the winds. Before them, off in the shadowy distance the city of Shaar stood high and long, built alongside the Dead Sea. Away west, the River Vhaa slithered through the earth from the Mountains of Varrin. The glassy black water shone a dark red and shimmered like the mists.
Kale rode blind, but could hear the water hissing by and the small waves crawl up the black shore with foamy fingers. Through his mask, the gates of Shaar began to thunder open, the heavy iron banded wood grinding against the stone floor. The walls were low, but stout and strong and have never been breached in all its long years beside the Dead Sea. In its past it has been barraged with enemy fire from the south of the Sea, though has survived, never to fall.
Beside the wooden gates carved with symbols of old, long heavy black banners draped down the stone walls, fluttering in the wind. Thousands of torches flickered with dim light upon the high towers and ramparts, outlining the stricture of the city through the thick darkness. As the knights clopped beneath the great threshold, the ground underfoot was loose and muddy. Dank mud slapped across the ground as the horses past, their massive hooves falling into the soft earth.
The knights passed through the quite city, the forges alit with grand hearths and lurid flames, burning and hammering weapons of mass destruction. The buildings were all crafted of dark stone, laden with age and time. Draped down many of their sides, the banners of the Oppressive One caught the glint of the flames. The knights led them briskly though the tight glum and grim streets, barren and drooping in sorrow. As they passed the people cowered in the shadows, frightened of their appearance, for they had to expect the worst.
At the back of the city, a massive keep rose up, overlooking the Dead Sea. Great torches shivered along the high stonewalls and long banners embroidered with the Red Hand flapped in the whispering winds. The knights dismounted their steeds with a song of steel and started toward the doors of the keep. Kale was bit by steel at the waist and felt his body lift off the horse and drift through the air, weightless, until he landed on the ground with a sudden thud. He staggered, trying not the fall into the mud, until he was grasped by another hand and steered toward the keep.
In the darkness of his mask, his inner thighs burned as they rubbed against each other, as if the skin was dry and raw like rock. He was led up sheer stone steps and further past the immense wooden doors, where we could feel the dancing warmth of the flame caress his face and arms. It was soothing and enough to allow him to keep moving.
His footsteps hit the stone floor with dull thuds, the keep cold and chill. The knights pounded across the floor until the one that lugged kale threw him to the ground and ripped off his mask in a flash of red light. The switch burned at his eyes and he shut them at the sudden pain.
“The one’s you asked for, my lord.” Said a knight clad in red and black scaled plate armor enameled and glinting in the heavy torchlight of the hall.
His proud words were directed to the head of the hall where atop an iron dais, there was a man, cloaked in shadow. He sat on a massive black throne of stone, where on either side, greatswords of massive scale rested against the stone. The hall consumed Kale, as he stared around, the banners glowing with ruddy light and the statues of knights that lined the sides between every hulking stone pillar were destroyed and crumbled. Many of their heads rested at their feet. Behind even the throne, the wall was a great window of glass, the Dead Sea shifting with the currents. The water was black as pitch and the ripples licked with twirls of red mist, eerie and grim.
Kale looked over at Ekin who kneeled, his head hung low over his body, casting him in shadow. His woolen cloak was in tatters and his plate armor glowed white beneath the wool. His sword still hung at his hip, sheathed in its magnificent blue scabbard, the hilt long and ribbed with a sapphire pommel burning like the torches.
A deep and powerful voice sounded from the darkness of the throne, “Did you truly think that you could contest with the power of Him?” Bellowed the man, directed at Ekin.
The Knight said nothing, but whipped the sweat off his face.
“You deserted us, Ekin, you know you did.” The lord beckoned. “You fled into the shadows like cowards, letting Him take over this land. You abandoned your oaths and laid waste to the people you were sworn to protect. Do the vows mean nothing to you?”
Ekin still did not answer and at this silence the man rose from his throne and thundered out of the shadow. The man was massive, larger than any man should be. His figure was like a tree trunk tall and burly with arms harder than steel. A deep red ringmail hauberk rung against the leathers beneath and the heavy black plate armor was thick and broad. The scaled steel covered the man head to toe, with the Red Hand of the Oppressive One emblazoned on his chest.
The ename1led armor shone darkly in the flickering torchlight and so too did his deep black eyes that fell in great pits. His brows were thick and brown, and his face was scarred and hard, stern and biter. His nose was bent, as if it had been punched far to much and his hair was long and black, rolling down to his shoulders in ripples. The man wore a scruffy black beard along his chin and cheeks and his ear had been burned by something, for it was no more than a mound of shiny pale skin.
“Do you not remember me, Ekin?” Asked the man. “Do you not remember your most loyal commander?”
Ekin stared at the floor. Was he alive?
“I thought you a better man.” Said the massive man. “I was wronged, again. What have you done all these long years? Hidden under a rock, have you?”
Ekin looked up, “What did he sway you with Lord Berrik Barath, I thought you a better man.”
“A response, at last.” Chuckled Lord Berrik. “Thought you’d speak soon enough. To tell the truth, Ekin, after your Knights deserted us on the battlefields, the Oppressive One overwhelmed us within a day and we were given the choice, die or live. I chose to live, to live a life instead of die. He gave me immortality, what everybody in the world wants: to live forever. And so I have, commanding his forces from Shaar.”
“You are just as bad as us.” Said Ekin. “You Switched.”
“I was given life,” Said Berrik. “Any sane man would have done the same.”
Ekin glanced down, “I should have know you’d follow me.”
“Indeed.” Said Berrik. “After I heard news of dead Snatchers outside of Vaelon and the four Dehre were reported killed my suspicions grew. I kept a close watch on the north and through Varrin. I knew you had come out of hiding. I had my men follow you, until you reached Tarar. It was there I commanded your body be returned to me, alive. Along with bloody kid.”
“I’m not a kid.” Said Kale, he hated being called that.
“Why this kid, Ekin?” Asked Berrik, “Why?”
Ekin did not respond. He could not.
“Silent again, are we?” Said Berrik. “Well I’ll tell you straight. I ordered you here to kill you, Ekin. How I will be praised by the Oppressive One when he hears that I, Lord Berrik Barath, once Alduri, has killed the great and powerful leader of the Order of Abelon. Can you imagine it?”
Ekin did not respond.
“You are going to die, Ekin.” Said Berrik, harshly, “You are going to die. But I will not chop off your head ceremoniously. No, there is no honor or pride in killing an unarmed man. I shall duel you.”
Berrik’s knights stirred, whispering to each other. “Now rise, Knight.” Berrik shouted at Ekin. “And draw your magical blade, for I have one of my own. A gift from the Oppressive One himself.”
Ekin resisted, but was forced to his feet by several knights. Lord Berrik turned back to his throne, where he hoisted his greatsword and slid it out of its iron sheathe with a scratch. The sword was massive, almost as long as the lord who drew it. The hilt was extensive and thick with red battered leather and a black obsidian pommel shaped like a fist, burning from within a fiery red an set with chips of ruby.
In the ruddy torchlight, the great blade was long and the edges keen with a point that pierced the eyes. The steel was a dark grey, almost black with glowing bands of red that swirled in the steel like mist. The edges licked with a ghostly black flame, hissing like a snake. “Its name is Blackbiter. It was forged of titorium steel, a lost substance from the realm of Uttae to the far west. No blade has ever been made with such metal. As large as it is, it weighs almost nothing in my grasp and is infused with the black magic of Vhrra, the forbidden magic. Let us see how it contests with the power of your sacred aldava steel, shall we.”
Ekin still did not respond, only stood there like a statue, his scaled plate armor gleaming like a dying star in the darkness of the hall. Kale bit his tongue lightly as he watched the two square off. Lord Berrik Barath now donned his great obsidian helm; concealing most of his face, save for the narrow slits at the eyes for sight. At the crown of the helm, piercing spikes shot out like a crown.
Ekin watched his enemy closely, drawing his ancient blade slowly with a long and drawn out scream of steel. The aldava steel glowed from deep within and the white-blue light challenged the darkness defiantly. The torches on the walls roared on their mantles and the black water behind the dais stampeded into the thick glass like grey foam horses, the red mists licking off the water and dissolving with a hiss. Kale watched nervously as Ekin looked Lord Berrik in the eyes, he had too. Lord Berrik was so much bigger and towered over Ekin. It appeared unfair.
The dance began in a clash of steel, Ekin blocking Berrik’s side slash. The Knight retreated quickly, and dashed at Berrik swiftly, though every lunge he made was deflected with the flat of the titorium sword. As the two swung and jabbed and sliced, the swords did not only clash with steel, but with magic. The dark magic and the light magic battled separately.
Berrik swung down with unnatural power, the blade hissing through the air with such speed Kale could hardly see it. Ekin dodged the strike, leaping to the side and knocking away the black blade as it hit the stone floor. Ekin pounced, noticing his chance. He sliced across the lord’s back, but all that came of it was long white scratch along the steel. The armor was strong and thick.
Berrik chuckled, “You’ll have to do better than that, Ekin. I thought you were better.”
Ekin ignored the taunts, keeping his mind in the fighting; he could not die. He knew that much, everything funneled to that thought. He whispered it under his breathe with each block or strike. As he swung a blow up towards, the break in Berrik’s armor the black blade flicked the steel away with a high screech. The two swords met in unison cascading with embers of flame and singing with the steel song. Ekin was the more lithe and agile, though Berrik was brute and forceful in his attacks. His strikes were hard and clumsy, while Ekin’s were light and accurate.
Ekin knew he had to aim for the breaks in his armor, it was his only way at victory. He jabbed up again, but his blade was thrown away with ease. He stepped back, examining Berrik’s movements, his eyes. His eyes! He could barely see. Ekin droved his sword low, though it pinged off Berrik’s greave and he whirled around, trying to strike the massive lord in the back of his knee, though he blade was deflected once again.
The two fought on for a long while, fatigue slowly crawling through their muscles. The fighting had slowed as result, but Ekin still pushed on the offensive. Still with his magical blade of light he probed for an opening to strike. He stabbed, jabbed, swung, hacked, lunged, everything until finally it happened….
The two fighter’s blades met again high in the air as one with a thunderous clang. Berrik pushed at Ekin, leaning on his sword and Ekin did the same, their faces almost meeting. The magic on their blades battled each other, the darkness slowly crawling towards the glowing light. The force was almost enough to haul a mountain and Ekin’s face began to shudder. Kale could taste the salt of blood filter down through his mouth dryly as he watched, heart thumping. He cannot die, he repeated to himself.
It was then Ekin arched his blade upward, twirling Berrik’s away and lunged at the exposed lord, but the jab was blocked by Berrik’s sword miraculously. Ekin stumbled back, trying to deflect the heavy blows Berrik was dealing. Ekin met each one, then with a flick of the wrist nudged the black blade away and sliced up at the break in the plate armor.
Steel bit through the ringmail, and deeper through the boiled leather, and further until it kissed flesh. Berrik howled in pain, but did not avert his eyes from Ekin. “You forget I am a Knight of Abelon.” Said Ekin with spite.
“You forget you were a Knight of Abelon.” Berrik spat as dark red blood dripped heavily from his wound.
Ekin drove on, berating Berrik with a flurry of attacks and moves, twirling and spiraling. All of them failed and were blacked or dodged. They were both weary, but still they fought, to the death. Berrik rumbled a blow at Ekin then another and another, driving his great blade through the air. The strikes clanged against Ekin’s blade and the Knight followed, driving his sword at Berrik’s body then again at his head and again at his torso until Berrik dodged.
He saw the blade pass by him and with his steel hand drove his closed
fist into Ekin’s face with a crunch. Kale looked away, he could not stand this, he wanted to help, but he couldn’t. He was imprisoned in his unyielding bonds of steel and iron. Ekin slammed to the hard stone ground in a heap, the plate armor clapping. His blade clattered as it fell, and went loose from his grasp.
There he lay, injured and weak. Berrik loomed over him like a mountain, a massive black figure, sword licking with black flame.
“What will the world think when they hear that I have killed Ekin, the King of Abelon?” Berrik thundered. “What will they think? Will they take pity, or only know that you deserved it, for what you did not do for them? I do not know yet, but I am about to find out.” And he drove his blade down with such speed and vigor Kale could not see it.
Though Ekin had. He met the drive that would have killed him with his blade somehow and rolled away lithely. He lunged at Berrik with speed, accuracy, and grace it looked like he was dancing rather than fighting. Berrik growled furiously, steam fuming from his nose like fire. He yelled and lunged, but Ekin blocked them all. He screamed again and hammered down the titorium blade, but it was met again by the aldava steel. Ekin dodged the neck strike then lunged, but his sword rung against the thick plate armor, a long white scratch slicing across the red hand at the chest.
Just then, he felt a searing spike of ice drive into he back of his leg, and he felt the cool and biter steel twist. He collapsed to his knees with a clink and cringed as the pain erupted through his entire leg, screaming in pain. Berrik slid out his sword slowly, tormenting Ekin as the black magic ate away at his flesh and the cool steel ripped at him.
When it had come out, Ekin screamed louder than he ever had, trying to silence the pain. His leg felt as it thousands of daggers wreathed in searing flame were stabbing at it.
“You cannot defeat me.” Berrik said. “No one can defeat the Darkness.”
Ekin leaned hard on his sword, his hand wrapping around the steel viscously. Ekin spat out vibrant red blood, then dropped his head.
“You’re going to die Ekin, you’re going to die.” Berrik whispered, the room falling silent like the breathe before the plunge.
“Tell me how it is.” Berrik taunted. “Tell me what it looks like.”
Ekin flashed his eyes at Kale, but Kale couldn’t look. He closed them with his hands. Ekin glanced back down at the ground, his face cringing. He bit hard, his eyes flaring and called upon his magic of old. The force swept over him like a great blast of wind and he leaped into the air. He swam through the darkness, twirled, and slashed his sword into Berrik’s helm. The obsidian shattered in two and dropped to the earth and Berrik howled even louder in pain.
Ekin jabbed again and again; sweat raining on the stone floor. He caught Berrik’s sword with a flick of his wrist and Berrik’s sword clattered to the stone in a great silence. Ekin stared his foe in the eyes long and hard, “I abandoned yes, but I never Switched.” And Ekin drove his sword into Berrik’s chest with a crunch and a twist and crack.
When Ekin ripped out the gleaming silver blade, Berrik’s grotesque blood splattered along the flat and sprayed the stone floor. It ran down the silver sword and dripped off the point, pooling beneath. The grand hall was consumed by silence and the torches along the walls burned with a flutter of orange light. The knights around Kale all stood in awe, and so did Kale, resting on his battered knees.
Ekin’s eyes met Kale’s with a flash and he mouthed the words, “We have to leave.” There was a massive conflagration of red and orange at the left end of the hall that followed. Writhing flames roared with fury and assailed them, licking the stone and engulfing the room. The knights fled, their black plate armor glinting a dark red. They screamed in dismay and terror at the rising flames rushing all about them.
Kale freed himself from his bonds and ran to Ekin, who limped rigidly and sheathed his ancient blade, rank with death. “They’ve set the hall to the torch.” Said Ekin. “They’re trying to kill us!”
The breaths and gusts of flame erupted and enraptured the walls, licking the underside ravenously. Everything was red, and a searing heat beat on them, oppressive and scalding, as if the hall was an oven and Kale and Ekin were the food. Kale let Ekin lean on his shoulder, limping on his wounded leg. Blood drenched his breeches and they grew heavy and wet, the blood glistening.
Ekin growled in agony and grinded his teeth as Kale lugged him through the flame and out of the hall to the muddy streets of Shaar. Back on the grey stone floor, Berrik’s body roasted in flame, burnt and blackened, dancing flames eating at his flesh savagely. Kale knew he deserved it… Or had he?
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