The Keys of Shadow

by: C.M. Galdre

The wind howled in a vicious gale, Captain Dashir had counted on the storm, poor weather was the marauders greatest ally. His ship had made a quiet approach, cutting through the wind like a knifefish darting through a shifting shoal. The bow of the Satrian Falx was sleek and cleverly curved, it sliced through waves as easily as its namesake sliced through flesh, and the ocean spilled its entrails before it. The black planks of ebonwood gleamed like polished steel in the sun, but on a night such as this, with a storm brewing all around, it was dark as a shifting shadow and became one with the rolling waves to even the keenest of eyes.

Dashir grinned as his clever ship took to shore. No foolish rowboats bobbing limply in the water for the landing parties of the Satrian Falx, the ship itself would not allow it. The captain could feel the ship quiver in anticipation beneath his booted feet. As silent as a whisper fell runes gleamed deep within the bowels of the ship, ebonwood began to shift and shudder, the body of the Satrian Falx began to grow long and lean.

The three great masts that bore it across the sea folded back into sleek and slim spines. The lust for blood and plunder came upon the crew like a madness among dogs, and they grinned with sadistic glee as the black ebonwood absorbed them into the strange extra-dimensional space that was the ancient ships hold. Dashir let the dark wood overtake him, the mind of the ship merging with his own. Two pairs great amber eyes grew on the bow of the ship, one each side one large and reptilian the other smaller and lidless. The Satrian Falx had completed its transformation. Where a ship had once bobbed within the waves a great sea wyrm now slithered towards the shore.

“Dashir.” The mind of the ship spoke to it's captain.

“Yes Satrian?” the captain answered the blazing presence that had merged with his own.

“You know how many of your kind have come before you, do you not?” The ship asked, its voice deep in Dashir's mind like the creaking of its timbre.

The mind of Dashir shifted uncomfortably. It always made him nervous when the ship mentioned its previous captains. Dashir knew well their fate.

“I do Satrian.” he cautiously answered.

“I want you to know that you, by far, have been the most bloodthirsty. You know my nature better than any that have gone before. Thank you.” the ship replied.

Dashir relaxed. “Your welcome Satrian, I too have enjoyed your company. Let us be ashore, for I know that this is your favorite part.”

The ship Satrian Falx was silent for a time.

“Indeed it is old friend. But I am most grieved that you will not survive the journey.” the ship replied and swiftly slithered out of the sea and up the rocky shore.

In the dark place that was the extra-dimensional hold of the Satrian Falx, Dashir felt his heart give way. Satrian had not betrayed him as he had so many captains before, no... his old friend had just known him better than any other. The old ship had seen the tiny holes that had grown within the captains heart, those that were the bane of all that chose to bond with a wyrmship. His time had come.

“Satrian” the captain wheezed, his mouth filling with blood. “Feast well upon my corpse.”

Beard clutched the Tattered Edge and held it before him. He knew that he should not take it, even the god-wolf Wuthweirgen had told him to leave it and select any other. It wasn't even as if he didn't have a choice, he was marooned upon the the isle of blades itself, home if the Isenshrike, but Beard had eyes only for one. The blade shivered beneath his touch, tendrils of shadow seeped from the ragged edges of the blade.

“Twice you have chosen me.” the blade whispered. “And again I have chosen you.”

The shadows swirled around the warrior, a cloak wrapped around the mortal form of a god.

“Six gates there were before you, the first you unlocked within the hall of Kgoreth with the key of rage. This gate is easily opened and I have served many that have only perused its depths. Now the second lies before you, opened by your unrelenting will. The key of force has been used.”

The blade quivered before Beards haunted gaze and slowly it turned to shadow and fell away, drifting apart into pieces of shadow that joined the swirling raiment of darkness that surrounded the warrior. Beard felt a great power rise within him and the shadow merged with his own cast upon the shore.

“You grow ever closer to my true name warrior, and with it comes great power. I shall be here for you warrior, ever waiting within your shadow... should you need me, for you are mine, and I am yours.”

The sword was gone in physicality but not in presence, Beard could feel the blade within him, it was a part of him, and he a part of it. The warrior drew his finger across the meaty flesh of his forearm. His eyes glistened with satisfaction as he saw his skin part easily and the red blood came quick from within his severed veins. I have become as death, destroyer of men. The warrior thought to himself and marveled as his skin sealed itself, healing into a slim silvery scar.

The wind howled and on its breath Beard heard rocks tumbling from the shore down to the sea. He turned slowly, his eyes scanning the cliffside. Over the rocky cleft a draconic head rose and four amber eyes focused on him intently.

Satrian slithered expertly over the stony shore. He did not recall this specific coast, but in his long memory he had traversed enough of its kind to be at ease climbing its rocky facade. There was something strange about this island though, it felt sharp, like the keen edge of a blade. The ridge was near, soon he would be over the top and feel sand against his ebon scales instead of cold stone, at least that is what he hoped. Satrian increased his speed, gliding over the rocks as easily as he could cut through the ocean waves. The crew, held safely within his runic hold must have felt the same foreboding as the great wyrm, they too became uneasy. The stench of their fear offended Satrian. I should kill them, The wyrmship thought. And why not? Had he not killed so many of his past crews, leaving one still alive, enslaved by his durimic magik, the same magik that had created the great wyrmships of old, of which Satrian was the last and eldest. Fools. Satrian thought. They do not know fear. They do not sense what I sense. They cannot know.

Pain wracked the great wyrmship, burning gem eyes, black as the abyss, burned within his mind, filling it with the sound of a sea of blades scraping across the broken armor of endless dead. “I see.” Satrian chuckled to himself. “So this is your home. We have stumbled upon a dangerous isle indeed. Worry not, I shall begone as soon as my work is done here.” The pain left, and the ridge was before him. Rocks were tumbling down the side of the cliff from where he had slipped during the mental attack. Shit. He thought as his massive head crested the ridge. So much for the element of surprise.

A warrior stood before the great wyrmship, he was calm and confident; almost arrogant Satrian thought. The warriors eyes blazed blue and contrasted with his long black mane and beard. The man crossed his arms, his muscles rippling beneath his scarred flesh. A Thorgithen! Satrian's mind whirled at the implications of a northman being so far south, and this one seemed to be a prime example of their kind. No matter. “Are you ready?” the ships voice boomed within the minds of the men held deep within his hold. “We are.” came the reply.

Beard watched cautiously as the wyrm slithered over the top of the ridge. He had no wish to fight the beast, but felt confident that he could defeat the creature if need be. The warrior could have sworn it had looked surprised when it found him upon the rocky outcrop. Now the creature seemed to be deep in thought. Beard crossed his arms, he had heard of such creatures being used as messengers by Abyssian gods, and so he waited. The creature closed its eyes for a moment, drew in a deep breath, and then spewed forth deep crimson fire.

The swirling flames surrounded the Beard, but he noticed that the creature had seemed to miss him intentionally, drawings ring of flame around the warrior rather than trying to catch him in the blast.

Beard uncrossed his arms and took a more readied stance. He eyed the creature, but it did nothing more than stare at him. Then the Thorgithen saw them, marauders emerging from the flames and drawing blades. “Sorcery!” Beard spat. He knew well that this was somewhat hypocrisy on his part, but the taste of magic never set well with the Thorgithen. The supernatural and powers of nature and the divine were fine, and perhaps that was what powered his strange blade and his own weird seeming immortality but the actions of the wyrm and this crimson flame stank with the magic of old Durimar.

There had been a time when all of Krytherion was welcome to the northman, a time before the rise of Turin out of the wretched and mysterious southern continent. It was during that time that the Thorgithens, then just barbarians, had begun to make their name. Naturally resistant to the fell magiks that came out of the old continent they were often hired as mage slayers and vault keepers. The battles of the ancient barbarians and the desert mages etched the very landscape and blood memories forged in such a crucible are not easily forgotten. The scent of magik lived on in the generations of Thorgithe, and even now their keen noses can pick up the stench of the burning sands of Durimar in blades enchanted in ages past with durimic magik.

“I think I have a mind for your intent already, but I would ask you to stay your blades and begone from this place.” Beard bellowed at the rapidly advancing men.

The marauders did not stop. Beard sighed and resigned himself for the fight that was to come. He felt the pull of the blade within his body, but something the sword had told him made him hold its power in check, the Thorgithen wished to fight un-augmented.

A great beast of a man with a barrel chest and gold hooped earrings charged Beard. The assailant was as much fat as he was muscle but he moved swiftly enough and carried two great curved scimitars in his hands. Beard took an open palmed stance and bayed the man to strike him. The goad worked and the giant man swept in with blades flailing. Quick as a flash, Beard dove beneath the whirling blades, his lunge deep, his knees never touching the ground. He grabbed the behind the giants ankles and pressed the crown of his skull into the mans inner thigh; the giant man toppled. As the man rolled over to get his knees under him he made excuses about his prowess in fighting groups. Beard planted a solid heel kick to the giants ass and sent him mouth first into the dirt.

Two more marauders came at the warrior, both with short cruel blades. Beard watched the circle of men in her peripheral and stepped carefully so that he was not caught between the two he currently faced. The maurauder at Beards left lunged. The Thorgithen quickly side stepped him and grabbed the mans sword arm with both hands, sliding his right hand down to the mans and cruelly twisted both hand and blade towards their owner. The second marauder ran at Beard to free his comrade. It was a mistake for both. Beard swiftly forced his captive to slit his own throat then in a swift flowing motion discarded the rapidly expiring marauder and met the other face on. Beard swiftly switched blade hands from right to left with the ease of a practiced juggler. The enraged pirate soon found his sword arm checked by the Thorgithens massive forearm and unable to swing his blade down before Beard drove the dead mans blade into his chest.

“Anymore wish to try?” Beard belted. The fire began to die in the eyes of the marauders as to the crimson flames that surrounded and protected them grew weaker.

A few more of the crew gained some small courage and all ran at the warrior at once. Beard dispatched them swiftly. The remaining crew looked to the wyrm.

“I think,” the creature spoke. “That there is no prize to be found upon this island worthy of fighting till this barbarian kills you down to the last man. Perhaps we should return to port and find a new captain.”

There were many nods of assent from the crew.

“I think,” Beard replied. “That you have already found a captain, for I am in need of both ship and crew to get me off this sullen rock. You are a wyrmship are you not? I have heard of your kind.”

Indeed, Beard knew much of the wyrmships that came from the cursed southern continent, the legends of their marauding bands of pirate mages were well documented in the Hall of Deeds. Mostly listing out the Thorgithens who had slain such creatures, or had died in the attempt, but need necessitates risk.

“What makes you think I would carry you northman?” Satrian sneered.

Beard could resist the pull no longer. In a lighting flash Beard closed the gap between himself and one of the crew who still eyed him with deadly intent, the fool did not see the shadow blade materialize, but he certainly felt it as it burst through his chest and bisected his spine, his very being lacerated by its cruel edge. With a swift flick the Thorgithen tossed the ruined corpse from his blade and grinned with wild glee. “We share a nature for action, you and I.”

The ship seemed to grin. “Indeed.” was all it said as the crimson fire died completely. Satrian slithered down in o the water and bayed the men and Beard come. The crew cast ropes around the great wyrms neck and held fast as it transformed back into the ship, the men climbing its sides as it regained its former shape. The air was filled with the scent of durimic magic, but Beard did not care. He was off the isle of blades and would soon find his way back to familiar shores.

This article is my 28th oldest. It is 2517 words long