by C.M. Galdre
The setting sun cast the sky in silver gold and the sea glowed like burnished copper. In the distance the horizon danced as if caught in the rising heat of a smithye's forge. Sol's proud beams bent like a bow in the sky over the open waves. The warrior knew he had reached the shroud that covered the dreaming isle, Ku'Linac, demonhome.
Beard stood upon the deck of his sleek black ship, the Satrian Falx, as its draconic head pierced the shimmering golden veil. The warrior watched, unmoved, as the ship seemed to disappear into the open sea.
“It feels strange.” The voice of Satrian boomed inside the warriors skull. “I have not felt its like before.”
The soulbound wyrms voice unsettled the warrior as it always did when the creature invaded Beards thoughts to speak.
“Steady, friend Satrian. The real test comes at the true gate, this be only the lookout. Its warning cries fall on dead or dreaming ears.” The warrior barked back with grin.
But Beard to was nervous, not out of fear but anticipation. In his right hand the warrior held the key to the Seamless Gate, a cube of curious geometry that would grant them access to the inner city, and his left he played with the ring he could no longer see but still felt was there, a gift of a demoness to whom he was well acquainted and who may reside within the dream creches of the ancient acropolis.
"A ring" she had said "to always bring you back to me."
In the cold dead halls of the Dreaming Palace, the demoness Vel'Naren paced across the gilded floors, long had she spent in the dream watching the warrior, her beloved, helping where she could, lamenting when she could not, and waiting for the day upon which they could be together once more.
But this was not that day. He sought the knowledge held within the ruins east of the untouched city, but there was no doubt in her mind that he would come for her as well. Tears welled in the demoness' eyes for though she would go with him, she could not. She knew, better than any, the ill-fate that would come if they two were allowed to meet, to touch, to embrace as they had once in what seemed like a dream a life-time ago. At her perfumed feet he would leave his quest, and she would set his battered brow upon her breast and weep, for love, for loss, and for the end of the world that was to come.
"He is the key star-daughter." the voice had told her. Not Fate or Destiny, nor any vain god or goddess of the new pantheon or the old was this, it had been something more, something older. It spoke with a finality that could cause civilizations to crumble. Perhaps it had.
How long ago was it now that the voice had come? When it woke the demoness from her slumber next to her precious manling and bade her to listen.
"He will die and he will live and he will burn and he will build. He is the reaver. He is the redeemer. He shall bleed for each drop his blade spills. And if he does not, Oh child of the endless night, you will find yourself the queen of a crumbling hall, the widow of a forgotten age, the last daughter of the last son, a fading star before the setting of this worlds sun." The voice had called in a dozen voices male, female, bestial, and divine.
"But the sun will rise again without this one. No man has such a power that his actions would stop the endless dance of the celestial orbs." the demoness had cried out to the phantasmal orator.
"It will rise again, yes, but unless your warrior leaves this house of incense and memory and wreaks his faceless havoc upon the world, then the sun will rise upon a dead world, diminished if not destroyed, fallowed but fetid a world where great deeds go unsung, and men die without valor, their bodies wracked with disease and the wasting of age."
"Tell me more of this fate." the demoness whispered.
"Ralmos comes." was all the voice said.
Vel'Naren shivered at the memory. As a girl she had been told of the "true voice" that comes to some when there is great need, but she had not believed it until that night.
Beyond the shimmering veil that hid the dreaming city, the warrior found its true defenses gleaming in the twilight sun, as pristine as the day they had been raised. A wall of solid white stone rising abruptly from beneath the sea, capped with jade tiles and accented with glittering tourmalines it stood an ile high from where it touched the waves. An unbroken circle that held the untouched city, there was no gate or even a dock to moor a ship, but Beard had become accustomed to such trickery in his long travels and so ordered Satrian to bring his prow right up to the wall itself.
Perched upon the carven wyrm shaped prow the warrior delicately placed his cubic key against the walls immaculate stone. The key glowed with a brilliant emerald light from deep within and shifted beneath the warriors fingers, its body re-aligning, sundering old runes upon its surface and forging new. As the key settled into an unfamiliar form, so did scarring verdure lines etch themselves across the surface of the pale white walls. From each line a thousand more grew all in right angles from their parent, such that as swiftly as spreading fire, a great gate was formed from the glowing matrix.
A mighty bell sounded, clarion and deep, like the hammer of Dzildar falling upon its iron anvil. Slowly the thousand pieces outlined in scintillating jade fell away like leaves blown by a sudden wind, and in their wake the warrior could see the city in all its opulent glory.
Beard plucked the glowing key from where it floated in the space left by dissolving stone, and placed it within the confines of his kidney pouch, next to some few trinkets and the vial of dire wolf fat he had once used to hone his cold iron blade.
Now, see before you how the warrior summoned once more the sword that bares a cursed name. From the shadows within his iron palm a blade tip black and jagged ran and grew into the waning light.
Heavy is its ancient iron, bitten is its blade,
shadow is its bloodied sheath, vengeance is its flame.
Whispering it eager comes, to bore a path of rage,
heavy is its burden old, the Tattered Edge its name.
The clear cry of the Deepening Bell sounding from the city core startled the demoness as she dashed through the dead cities vaulted halls. Ku'Linac had once been a haven for her kind, but no longer. The guardians which turned against the cities men long ago, now hunted its women as well. Many had died within their dream creche, unaware of the horrors that lurked outside their crystalline cells. Many were not so lucky, and their echoing cries haunted Vel'Naren still. As the cities only waking citizen, Vel'Naren acted swiftly to save as many as she could, but knew not if it had been the right decision. The demon race, whose physical form barely graces the waking world could be sent within their dream creches fully into the twilight realms from whence the demons came. But the realms were not as they were when the first sprang forth, and so the demoness Vel'Naren was filled with doubt as she dodged the many bladed guardians on her route to where her love had come ashore.
Beard swallowed hard as he pried the corpse from the remains of the shattered automaton. Her horns were different, he told himself as he turned the body over. Relief but sorrow too, swept over the warrior as the dead demoness' face was revealed to him. Not his demoness, but similar in beauty, even in death the perfect symmetry of the corpses face spoke of a otherworldlyness not meant for the likes of Krytherions crude men. The body bore no sign of decay, though only the upper half of it was left, it dripped no clotted blood, nor smelt of decay. The gaping cavity where once a fair waist attached to wide hips and slender legs, spilled no offal, but instead swirled with a thick purple smoke which rose as if the corpse burned and carried the scent of burning cedar.
The grim Thorgithen, wondered at this, for never had he encountered such a death, but stranger things he had seen since his travels took him from his home far in the cold north. Beard arranged the corpses form in as reverent a manner as he could manage and left the dock to which he had moored right before the guardians attacked. This sign, this dead demoness, bore ill portents for what lay ahead.
“Beard, son of Begrin. Lord of the North. Leave this cursed place! To the east lies what you seek... go now and live.” Vel'Narens voice called, magnified by the empty streets, and clear above the din of battle.
“Go now. I beg thee.” she cried through tears she could hardly contain.
“I have not grown so weak as to fall to such things as these, and I have no mind to be apart from you again.” Beard bellowed as another many bladed guardian fell beneath the warriors dark blade.
The square in which he made his stand was wide and clear, the mozaic tiles beneath the warriors feet made slick with black oil and broken machinery. Ku'Linac came alive with the sound of guardians rushing to the scene, their blades chittering in anticipation, their bodies adorned with the demon dead.
“I too must leave, but by another route my love. You must still walk this path alone.” Vel'Naren cried as another wave of metal warriors rose up and fell before the warriors slashing blade.
“What of the girls?” Beard called back. For he had once sent two young girls he had rescued from a island cult by demonic machinery to the isle to find their way to his demoness.
“I know not. One day they both disappeared and not long after the guardians turned against all who dwelt here and I have not been able to find them or... otherwise.” The demoness finished lamely.
Beards face grew grim as he recalled both his and the demoness' assurances to the girls that they would be safe upon the dreaming isle.
“You expect me to leave knowing that those two are missing, and you a prisoner to these machines.” Beard yelled as a dozen more guardians spilled into the square.
“I expect you to live, Beard of the North, for I have bet everything upon it and you.” Vel'Naren spoke with a voice she had not used since the day she had sent the warrior away from her slender arms.
“So be it.” Beard growled as he slammed his blade into a giant guardian, twisting the blades hilt and jerking out the automatons side, spilling gears and oil in a violent spray.
He turned to where he'd heard the voice of his lost love calling, and could sense that she was still there, hiding from his sight. His eyes narrowed, his rage spilling forth like fire, Beard dashed towards the eastern city, his strange cubic key, tucked away safely, glowing stronger with each step, the bones of the dead more numerous, and his mood increasingly grim.