by C.M. Galdre
Beard stood upon the prow of a sleek black ship, one hand grasping the rigging, the other shading his eyes against the blazing sun of the Eastersea. A half butchered mursvik shark lay across the deck behind him, its thick red blood spilling over the side. It had been three weeks since he had eaten so well, three weeks since he had left his crew on an abandoned ship and set out on on the wyrmship Satrian Falx.
“If you leave it in the sun it will spoil.” The sound of the wyrmships voice boomed within the warriors mind. “Such bounty... should not be wasted.”
Beard cast disdainful gaze over the half eaten corpse. He had already taken the choice bits, most of what remained was fat and cartilage.
“You may have it if you wish Satrian.” Beard answered. His voice was raspy from disuse. The warrior had grown used to communicating with the ship through their link, sharing thoughts and voice of mind. There was a skinshyft to hunt and in true Thorgithen manner, Beard intended to gloat over the creatures corpse, cursing it till the light faded from its eyes. He wanted his voice to be strong.
The warrior grinned as he heard the telltale creaking of the ships planks, something between the sound of groaning wood board and rasping lizards scales. When the ship had a crew it had not dared to let them see it feed. They thought themselves, their life force, the only means by which the creature gained nourishment but the ship had long learned to hide its carnivorous activities. It was hard enough finding a crew and captain that would bond, even harder to do so whilst chewing upon the spine of a whale. Beard had discovered it almost immediately after the two had set sail without the rest of the crew. The smell of the pirates and their raucous lifestyle had hidden the sounds and smells of fresh death from the northman, but without them he woke immediately one night to the scent of fresh blood and the sounds of cracking vertebra.
Beard flexed his sword arm. It ached for the grip of his stolen blade. For that is what he hunted the blade and the one who'd stolen it from him. To the east, the creature had told him to follow. Beard knew little of those his people called skinshyfts, known in the south as flesh-swaps, strange that when he had first met the creature he had called it by its southern name. The Northmen swallowed down the bile rising in his throat, too had he been an exile from Thorgithe, too long from his home in the frozen north.
Perhaps it was his longing to be home, perhaps it was some faint connection left to his lost blade, but something bayed the warrior turn north, and so the sleek black ship turned from east to north east, and the warrior grinned at the the sound of sails filling with strong winds.
The old man waited within the smoke tent for Erio to return from visiting the lord of the wood. The forest god had not called him to the inner sanctuary in many cycles, perhaps the haze of death that hung over the old man disturbed the primal god. No, that was not it. It was because the girl could see, she had the sight that would let their god live to be hunted once more when all the world died and the old gods were born anew. The wolf and the fawn, the boar and the bear, the eagle and the raven. Who was left now but the old Stag and the Wolfmother? The old man had seen the deaths of many of the old gods. None broke his heart more then when he saw the raven cast into the sea, her bright gold blood gleaming upon the blades of the god-slayer. The forest lord had taken him in then, broken, blind as he was... as all priests of the raven had been. The last of his kind. That is why the Stag called for Erio, she was true born of the forest, and the old man was just a remnant of a long dead mistress.
Ash fell like snow upon a blackening sea, the air burned with sulfuric fumes. Beard stood upon the prow of his black ship as it sailed across the waters where black seas crept out to meet the blue. The shift between was striking, like the border between healthy flesh and a festering wound the sea changed from azure to obsidian. The sky blackened with thick smoke emanating from the isle that held the warriors gaze, an obsidian rock jutting forth from the deep, its mount spewing smoke and flame into the sky, its sides streaked with rivers of burning sulfur.
Satrian fell silent as they approached the burning isle. Perhaps it is the presence of so much fire, Beard mused. Despite his silence, the ship seemed to be managing its own affairs, sails were drawn and oars were rowing the pair towards the flame blasted shore. Steam rolled across the top of the water as they drew closer, like mist born snakes roiling across a black glass surface, and Beard could feel the pulse of the Tattered Edge calling him.
Erio burst into the smoke tent, eyes wide in panic, her face painted with the ritual markings of a formal visit to the forest lord, splashes of red upon her pale white skin.
“I have had a vision.” She hissed through fear clenched teeth. “A man wreathed in black flame comes seeking something lost, a creature born of the bound one waiting like a spider in its web, and the one with eyes of blazing black, his body made of blades, comes to destroy all.”
“You have had similar before.” the old man laughed. “What makes this one any different? For months you have been having dreams such as these. Sit. Eat.”
Erio stood, sweat dripping down her trance fevered form. “Skógrevid smelled iron.”
The old man turned his empty eye sockets to the girl, it was rare that she called the forest lord by his true name. The fear in her voice, the widening of her eyes, bore into the old mans mind and dredged loose a memory long held, now free it swept him up in it, drowning all else out but the scents, sounds, and visions of a time long past.
“Samhaim,” a voice called, dark and feminine “come.”
Samhaim kneeled before the woman, his arms lean and well muscled, his armor gleaming silver trimmed with glossy black pinions, a long smokey cloak draped round his shoulders lay gracefully upon the floor behind him, clasped at his chest with the mark of Mor'Nemainann, The Raven. “I hear and obey.”
Mor'Nemainann lay sensually upon her gilded lectus despite her anxieties, the cut of her black satin dress lost upon the blind servant before her, but Samhaim could remember, a man does not forget one such as Mor'Nemainann. After all it was she that filled his mind, it was she that filled his final gaze before he plucked out his own eyes and presented them to her. His mind held the vision of her from that time, her pale white skin, her long black hair, her lips pale pink with a single amaranth square painted upon her lower lip. There was a delicacy in all that she did, but a strength too. The woman emanated mystery and power. Back then she had raised a thin black brow, amused at the sight of a Ullulian Battle Lord bowing to serve, her amber eyes filled with fierce hunger and ambition. It gave the warrior gooseflesh to think upon it.
But there was something different in his mistresses behavior now. She smelled as she always had, like delicate and deadly oleander, but his keen senses detected another fragrance, the cold scent of fear. Samhaim had never heard of his mistress being worried before, but now he could hear her shifting as if she did not wish to reveal what she was about to say.
“Samhaim,” she whispered. “The winds carry the scent of iron.”
Beard glistened with sweat as he pushed a burning hunk of burning pumice away from the Satrian Falx. The warrior knew the black wood bore its own magic to guard it from such things, but it was far better to ride a ship in a boiling sea than swim and he wished to take no chances.
Satrian had kept his silence, and the warrior did not mind it. Beard enjoyed the calm of having his mind to himself for once, perhaps this would last, the thought of which brought a manic grin to the northman's face. The shore was naught but two iles away now, and though the sky was black Beard could see well, his eyes long trained and burning mount ahead of him cast light well enough. A sinuous figure crept along the shore, a familiar silhouette upon its back, a blade with a jagged edge, a black sash billowing from its hilt in the heated wind.
Erio stood in the door of the old mans cave. She had never seen the Elder so active, so full of life and vigor, he absolutely thrummed, if the old man still had eyes she imagined that each would have burned as hot as coals. Shortly after leaving the smoke tent he had run, actually run, to the little hovel he had carved within a forest cave. She lived within the compounds of the Forest God, she had never lived anywhere else as far as she knew and the Elder had lived in this little cave for as long as she remembered.The old man had cared for her when Lord Skógrevid was out visiting other woods, and for as long as she had known the wizened hermit she had never learned his name, he had always been “old man” or “Ogee” a name that made Lord Skógrevid laugh and the old man pout. Erio knew it was something in the old tongue, and it felt right, but the old man always grumbled when she used it. She had never thought about it before, but now it seemed odd that she did not know the real name of the only human she had ever known and had raised her, if not as a father, then as a godfather.
“Is the Forest Lord still here?” The old man growled.
“He rests now from his wandering.” the Erio replied.
“Doesn't matter, he will need to find the strength to leave.” the old man grumbled, shoving a flint dagger wrapped in boars hide into the girls hands. “And make him take you with him.”
Erio began to mouth her protest but the old man returned abruptly to his work. He ran his wrinkled hands delicately across the rock wall just below the nook in which he made his bed. With a grin he pulled a small fishing knife from his belt and slid it along a near invisible crack within the wall. With a satisfying snap a small rectangular piece of stone gave way to reveal a piece of tarnished silver hidden within. The girl watched as the old man removed it from the wall, he held it with the same reverence she bestowed upon offerings to Lord Skógrevid, and he placed it gently upon the stone table at the center of the cave.
The old mans hands danced slowly and gracefully through the air, seeking out hidden currents the young girl could neither fathom or detect. As he worked the tarnish began to give way, slowly at first, then building into a tempest of age and grime rising like steam from the surface of the silver disk. The curio upon the table was a clasp of some sort, ancient in design, bearing a sinuous form upon its surface in the rough shape of a bird in flight. The motif looked familiar to the young priestess. She had seen something similar in a collapsed part of the Forest Lords temple, a piece of green cloth rotting and clinging to it like dried skin. That one had been gold, its surface worked into a reasonable facsimile of Skógrevid himself.
With breath drawn taught as if gasping his last breath, the old man grasped a blade in his left and and stretched out his right above the trinket. Sweat beading upon his furrowed brow he clasped the blade edge tight around his palm and drew it through his paper thin flesh. The blood came slowly, thick with age, sap drawn forth from an ancient tree, in dark rivulets it dripped upon the the gleaming clasp and settled within its ridges. The elder exhaled and the caved filled with a chilling wind, as it swirled about the room rough lines rose like welts upon the stone walls forming runes around grim circles and lines that connected them like constellations beaming in the night sky.
The stone table crumbled away and in its stead stood a chest of black wood and scroll-worked bronze. The old man smiled as he bent down, his nose nearly touching the latch, and let out his breath slowly, fogging the burnished bronze. The latch clicked and the chest fell open. Erio stifled a gasp as the old man removed its contents, twin curved sickle-swords of blackened bronze, their guards worked into the shapes of ravens wings. These he set aside with sacred reverence before retrieving the rest of the chests contents, a dull black cape, pauldrons edged with feathers, a black leather cuirass that seemed to drink in the rooms dim light, a plated kilt, kidney belt, supple leather boots, and silver worked greaves.
“Old man.” Erio managed to whisper. “who are you?”
Had she not known better the young priestess would have sworn he could see her as plain as day despite his lack of ocular organs. “Me? I am an old man, but once this body belong to Samhaim the Blooded, First Bladearch of the Night Herald, the Raven Mor'Nemainann.
The girls eyes grew wide, she knew the names, legends from a forgotten age, whispered to her by Skógrevid as he taught her of the first gods, the dwindling race to which the he belonged. Erio watched as the old man donned his armor, each piece seemed to lend him strength so that when he sheathed his twin blades he hardly seemed the same person.
“You must go now.” The old man implored. “The godslayer comes.”
Erio cast a regretful gaze over the room where the old man had long cared for her and then slowly down to the dagger she now clutched at her breast. He had been the closest thing to a parent since the Forest Lord had accepted her as a tribute from an altar in some far distant land, and the thought of leaving him to face the creature she had seen within her dreams filled the young girl with dread.
“Die well, Samhaim.” the girl whispered, the old words bubbling forth from forgotten memories implanted in her mind. “May your enemies travel long before you on your journey to the Last Path.”
Erio darted down the well trod path leading from the cave to the old temple, but she could still hear Samhaim's words as they echoed forth from the cave.
“May my swords shatter and my last breath crumble mountains as my passing shakes the world.”
The rock face shattered beneath Beards mighty grip, brittle obsidian giving way to the warriors battle forged hands. Beneath him the Satrian Falx lay anchored hard against the surging waves, sheltered from the burning slag falling from the sky. Hand over hand Beard climbed, the full weight of his body pulling upon his corded arms, the slick black stone giving no hold but those that paid the warrior back in blood.
The wind burned Beards skin as if Driidghogue himself had crawled forth from the frozen fires of Hunerhiem and let loose his breath upon the warrior. Beard neared the cliff edge and it seemed to him as if the entire world would burning away to smoldering ruin before he reached the summit. Ash caked the warriors sweat stained body as he crested the ridge and the sky above him opened in a tempest of crackling electric fury. Thunder shook the ground as he regained his feet and surveyed the blackened hellscape before him. To the north loomed the shadowed mountain, dripping bright fire, and belching a cacophony of smoke and cinder into the soot darkened sky. In the distance, scrambling down the coast the northman's eyes spotted his quarry, too far for the creature to grasp the warriors mind and assume a shape, it scurried along a blur of motion among the stones.
In the space between realms and dreams the complicated plumbing that inhabits that strange placed seemed ill at ease, if one was attuned to such things, as some who dwell that region are, you might say that they hummed. The creature that currently haunted these dripping halls was different now than it had been before, there was a maliciousness now where there had once been cold precision. It was not of this place, but it was well familiar and could read the delicate humors of those glistening vessels. Something was amiss, a surging of powers. The creature vibrated with preternatural joy, its laughter the war hymn of stannic wasps on the swarm. Delicate blades, slim and deft, clicked as they pantomimed the precise motions of the hands they were made to mimic, violet runes flared into existence and a tear in the space between spaces opened to a vast burning sea.
The skinshyft chanced a glance over his shoulder, the warrior was gaining. He cursed his luck, this was the seventh time he had drawn the Hand of Ilmos in the game of chance between he and his fellow vezyeri. Another mission for the glory of Ralmos. Never had the talented vezyer regretted a mission more than this one. How he longed now for the crystalline palace, the solitude of the banished tower. He knew that long had Ralmos struggled against the seal that Turin wrought, how he had bore a hole within the seal, enough to let a few of his followers into the world, enough to slowly widen the gap as they spread the illumination. The skinshyfts mind began to slip in focus, it often did when the creature thought upon Ralmos to long. The vezyeri's mind swam through a thick mire of shifting memories, an image, a face he could not remember and white walls that stood tall against burning sands, a desert covered in scuttling black scarabs. The memory poured out of the creatures mind as he ran, there was a tingling at the back of his skull, a mind was nearing. Gently the creature probed at the warrior, he would need to chose something formidable to face him in battle. The vezyeri's mind locked in upon an image in the warriors mind and the crystal within his chest pulsed with lazuline light.
Beard dodged a shower of flame and stone. He had gained upon the creature and was about to overtake him when suddenly the daemon Bafal stood before him swinging his burning flail, unchanged from the memories from which he had been birthed. He stood on two great oxen legs which supported the body of a carven man-god scaled to a giants frame, with mighty arms that terminated in clawed reptilian hands. The creature bellowed from the gleaming beak in the center of its strigian face, its antlers catching ash as it fell like snow from the burning sky. The warrior grinned as he deftly dodged his sudden foe, the skinshyft had chosen poorly, the warrior had defeated this creature when he had barely seen thirteen risings of the summer sun.
The pseudo-daemon began a furious assault, unnerved by the warriors sense of calm when battling such a mighty foe. It worked its club and flail like a creature possessed, froth forming upon its leathery hide, spittle dripping from its maw. Beard continued his deadly dance, dodging the creatures weapons with ease and grace, running the great beast down.
With a mighty shriek the Bafal-thing let loose a mighty swing with its massive club, overcommiting his strike, pouring all his strength into the blow. Beard stepped in beneath the blow and took charge of the creatures arm with a vice like grip twisting and throwing the daemon with the warriors strength adding to the beasts momentum. The daemon was lighter than he remembered, and though he felt the flesh of the thing beneath his fingers he felt as if he was grappling with the wind. The thing skidded across the burning rocks, but no mark was made upon its flesh. Beards eyes narrowed, something was amiss.
The vezyer watched as the warrior fought with the phantom image he had created from the mans own memories. Though invisible to the warrior because of the psionic blocks locking the warriors brain, shutting Beard off from the sensory data that included the vezyer and inputting the creature the warrior now fought, the vezyer was a creature of caution and stayed well out of the warriors site. The skinshyft didn't know why its master wanted this particular warrior dead but it didn't matter, Ralmos' word was law and he was compelled to obey. The vezyeri drew his crystalline dagger, a chortle rumbling in his throat for whilst the warrior thought otherwise the skinshyft carried only this blade. Beards own sword was bound to him all along, the vezyeri had only blocked him from accessing it, the poor fool.
With the peculiar grace of his kind, the skinshyft crept along the slippery obsidian stones towards the warrior. He admired Beards grace and strength, it was a shame to waste such talented flesh, but there is no denying a decree from the Crystalline Eye. The jagged stone blade the vezyeri held before him pulsed with swirling malachine light. Each step brought the skinshyft closer to his prize, the warriors back lay unguarded as he faced off against his giant illusive daemon. The vezyer grinned as Beard grappled and threw his foe, talented indeed, the skinshyft thought as he brought the blade in line with the warriors exposed back, a quick jab up through the kidneys and into the heart should do it, the vezyri tensed as he froze, poised to strike with his blade.
Beard felt the familiar icy sting of a blade slipping into his flesh. Bafal shattered before him, an illusion broken by a keen edge and its owners concentration of purpose. In that instant the warrior saw his fools errand, how the mental barriers had been slipped between him and his dark blade in his first encounter with the skinshyft, how he'd been so easily blinded by rage as the creature worked is psionics. The creature cackled with glee as he drove the crystalline blade home, but Beard would have none of it, the warrior clenched his rippling muscles upon the blade and turned abruptly jerking it from its owners hands before it reached home in the warriors heart. In a single deft motion the Tattered Edge burst into existence, its arc seeming to cut reality leaving a shadowed ribbon in its wake. The skinshyft stood stunned as the blade passed through his impish form, and fell eyes wide upon the soot stained earth.
Gasping, the creature held to life still, its bisected form trying to pull together as the cracked crystal embedded within its chest pulsed and screamed. Beard raised his mighty edge to finish the thing but as the arc came down the air filled with the sound of beating wings and he found his arms checked by two withered limbs that looked to have once held great strength of their own. The warrior stared into the eyeless face of a man whose cycles seemed to have long run out, but the man held Beards arms in check just the same.
“Hold warrior!” the man bellowed, “this thing is finished, let it die in its manner.”
Beard raised an inquisitive brow to the stranger, but there was an air to the man that reminded the warrior of his brothers in blood from the north. The old man motioned the warrior a few paces back and seemed to be waiting for something. The two men did not have to wait long, for as the crystal in the skinshyfts chest lost its light the creatures body began to take a different form. Iridescent scales replaced skin and hair, and his eyes which had been white milky orbs grew reptilian and sparkling blue. Its limbs ended in three clawed fingers, its neck elongated as its head turned into something that reminded Beard of the Storm Drakes he had encountered long ago. The creature seemed to see the world for the first time and then looked down despairingly at the cracked crystal in its chest which swiftly filled with the creatures blood.
Then the skinshyft did something Beard did not expect, it began to sing, and in a voice so clear and resonant that the warrior felt moved just by its sound.
The old man hummed along in a counter harmony as the creature sang its death throws. No words that the warrior could discern, but tones so pure the very air seemed to still around them. How long it lasted, the warrior could not say but in the end the creature died and Beard saw that both he and the old man wept.
“What was it?” Beard breathed, stunned by what he had just witnessed.
“They were called the Yisk once, an ancient race, old when the world was yet young.” the old man intoned. “I was there when they fell and became the servants of the Crystalline Eye, Ralmos the Beyond. My mistress took me, upon black wings we flew to the deserts in the west of Kytherion. I was there too when the black wall came down during your ancestors fight against Turin, as I was many a battle in days long past. But that day on the sands of the Western Desert, it was Turin and his army that were the heroes. “
“Long the Yisk had lived as the keepers of the song, they were diplomats and peacemakers, philosophers and sophics. They had no language but the song, and all who heard them understood them with a clarity no words could bring. It was that very song that lead them to their end. The greatest singers in all the Yisk wished to unravel the mysteries of the universe through song and so they spent long years learning the tunings of each thing that existed in all the lands, and they wove the notes of creation into a single song that they sang loud and clear upon the highest ramparts of their white city upon the sands.”
“But something from beyond heard their singing and came through space and time, from its universe to ours. Ralmos appeared through a tear in the sky above the city and his madness called 'the illumination' spread like wildfire among the Yisk who began to change into the skinshyfts. Some resisted, yes, but their voices were lost in the cacophony of madness that Ralmos sewed, twisting the singers songs to widened the rift and allow more of his presence to pour through. For seven days the illumination spread and for seven days those that remained sane sang a song to call for aid. On the eight came Turin, his ensorcled army swept across the sea and land on swift black ships and destriers that knew no pain or death. His black clad army swept down through the desert like a plague of locusts and raced like fire through the city, slaying those too far gone and capturing the rest. Upon the highest towers the great sorcerers and Turin himself battled with the god-maddened singers now turned into the highest priests of Ralmos, the Voidlings of th Eye. Until at last, the sorcerers of Amar and Turin swept all who had been tainted into the rift with a shadow blackened spell that closed the rift at both ends trapping Ralmos and his victims within in a place that was not, a void of naught.”
“Turin... was a hero?” Beard stood aghast.
“Aye, but the casting changed him, as it changed many who had entered the city. Turin and his army did not leave Kytherion, as you well know. With a fervent passion they swept across the lands, telling themselves they sought to destroy the remnants of the illumination, but in their hearts they sought only conquest and power.” The old man sighed.
“Until my ancestors cast him down into ruin after the falling of the wall.” Beard continued.
“You think old Turin dead do you?” the old man cackled “Perhaps in a way he is, but lo warrior, we can no longer chat of days gone by, do you not sense a common enemy approaching?”
Beard flexed his sword arm and scented the wind, his eyes growing wide in recognition.
“I am called Beard.” the warrior intoned in the brief moments the two now had before the coming of their enemy.
“Samhaim” the old man replied.
Together they spoke the words warriors have told each other since the first blade was drawn from stone with hot coals and the beating of hammers. “Die well.”
Iron blades chittered with glee as the creature blade stepped over the burning waters, from floating mound of burning pumice to the next it danced, each step carrying the creature a dozen strides and preceded by an unsettling buzz as the thing burst in and out of reality. Its predecessor had not been so brazen, it mused, but then it had not had its programming augmented with that of a Vederine assassin. It could still feel that past bit of programming there, like an echo within its logic matrix, screaming about proper precedents and numbers artistic. A minor inconvenience this improved Isenshrike had to deal with, one it would eventually be able to purge from its systems, all in due time. For now the godslayer focused upon the shores ahead of him from which a peculiar song was now emanating. It tugged at the ferric beings memory web, images and text bursting into existence before the creatures eyes for analysis.
Auditory Analysis: Yisk 3 rd Dynasty, Dirge of the Unlived
Voice pattern matches an ex-illuminated
Initiating Voidling detection...
Voidling mark detected within 10 meter radius of audio sample
Illumination Analysis: 0% Illuminated, Subject Immune
Subject Analysis: Parameters out of bounds
Safety Protocol Initiated: Terminate all life forms classes 0-5 within 60 meters of audio sample
The Isenshrike hummed with joy. Few things fell outside classes 0-5, 0 being gods and god-like beings and 5 being invertebrates and sentient plants.
Across the flaming waves the Isenshrike burst with preternatural speed its cloak long discarded, its body expanding to tower over his foes, its blades whirling like a desert storm. It hit the warrior first, who bore the mark of the voidling and whose blaze blue gaze set the godslayer's memory system a flutter. This was the Thorgithen its predecessor had attempted and failed to slay, far before the creature had reached its time for reaping. Now though, as the two war-beings exchanged furious blows, it seemed the warrior from the north had perhaps gained a few to many supernatural abilities to avoid the sickle.
The Isenshrike parried two ferocious blows from Beards death black blade and, spinning like a seed in the wind, thrust out with a long curled bladed leg, catching the warrior in his midriffs. Flames burned from the massive wound the butcher had gored into the warriors gut, yellow mixing with black and the Isenshrikes eyes gleamed in anticipation of devising a means to keep the warrior dead once the bladed devil had gotten him most of the way there. Its musings were cut short however my a ragged cry from behind as a second life-form joined the fray.
The godslayer's faceted eyes fixed upon the being bearing down upon him, strong once, but now appearing feeble, in garb the creatures databanks were quickly trying to match. The Isenshrike raised a disdainful arm to block the incoming mans duel curved bronze blades. The old mans swords connected with the Isenshrikes arm with the tinkling of a silver bell, and then silence. The Isenshrike blade stepped swiftly away from the crazed man, leaving its severed arm behind. The old man grinned and posed in the form of his ancient art and in an instant melted into shadow and reappeared in front of his foe as black feathers burst around him and then withered into shadow. The Isenshrike blade stepped again, the trademark electric buzz of it tearing through the air, but the old man match him step for step, on up into the burning sky. The godslayer internal mechanisms whirled as they engaged some gyrating device that kept the creature aloft, but the old man just stood upon the air as if it were solid ground, his eyeless gaze fixed upon his quarry.
“For my mistress, Mor'Nemainann.” The old man bellowed and unleashed a flurry of blades that pressed the unnatural being before him.
Broken blades and cabling mixed with ash and cinder as they fell to the earth, sprinkling the ground where Beard stood trying to figure out his next move. The warrior had received what he had come for and he owed no debt to the man who fought the Isenshrike, none but that of providing the warrior a chance to escape, but something bade Beard to stay. The old man, Samhaim, seemed to be not only holding his own but apparently pressing his advantage upon the creature, if only they fought upon the ground, the young warrior from the north lamented, then perhaps he could do something. For now the warrior watched and waited, for a chance to strike out and aide his new found ally against an old foe.
“You are not so strong as you were.” Samhaim goaded the foundering godslayer. “Are you truly the thing that struck my mistress from the sky? Are you really the one who threw me to the dust, gutted and dying, to listen as you bent my pale mistress' form over the end of a iron pike even as she gasped her final breaths?”
Spittle leapt from the Ullulian Battle Lord's lips, tears wetting his empty eye sockets.
“I lived to hear her spirit pass from her body and scream as it was twisted into your cruel mechanisms, I lived to hear the sickening sound of her perfect hand being severed and thrown into the dirt near my corpse so that I may smell my mistresses dead blood and know. Curse you spawn of the star-thieves!” Samhaim bellowed as his twin blades sank deep into the inner workings of the Isenshrikes chittering torso.
Recognition then, if it can so be called, dawned upon the godlayer's bladed visage, its eyes burning with a cruel black unlight. A beam burst out from a severed cable, and its light played forth an image upon the sky.
The face of Samhaim in his prime, his oiled muscles streaked with sweat and blood, surprise upon his face as a thousand blades tore out his inner workings. The grief stricken face of a stunning woman, her amber eyes red with tears and her amaranthine lips snarling with rage, her hair as black as a ravens wing billowed behind her to a wind that seemed to effect naught else.
Fury filled those endless eyes and the image blurred as she struck out against an unseen foe that seemed to be the audience, the Isenshrikes memories had been painted in full across the burning sky. A red flashing tint overtook the image and strange runes that resembled the ancient symbols of death as if borrowed by another race, filled the sky. A blade of pure hot light burned into the image and struck out at the enraged beauty, she fell then from the sky and plunged into a deep ocean, her glittering gold blood trailing behind and pooling in the roiling waves. The projection ended as the recorder headed towards the sea, and Samhaim, the elder Samhaim, groaned as a thousand blades relieved him of his entrails once more, and twin bladed arms cast him down to the burning earth.
Beard was stunned as he watched the vision unfold upon the sky. He recognized the Raven god from his peoples own mythology, her witches still painted their lips with winter amaranth suspended in wolf fat in honor of their patroness. The warrior knew that the witches prayers had stopped working in days long passed which lead to their dwindling cult, but he could not have guessed their mistress had fallen to the godslayer.
The warrior quickly snapped out of his shock induced malaise in time to catch Samhaim as he plummeted to the earth. The old man was still alive but his spirit appeared to be as broken as his body. Beard set the old man down gently and reached out to his blade, and to the fire too of the voidling mark whose curse filled his veins, there was power there and Beard no longer cared if the use destroyed him. Perhaps all of Thorgithe would be lost without its king, his fathers killer never brought to justice, perhaps the whole world would fall to ruin, but Beard would die ridding it of the thing that had killed the gods that had made the world interesting, even if he burned away, a final light of the glory of mankind and the spirit of the north before the fall.
Beard leapt as the Isenshrike bore down upon him, his eyes filled with blue flame and blood that glowed like stirred coals oozed from his still healing wounds. The titans met with a thunderclap that cleared a hole in the smoke choked sky. The warriors chipped black iron blade vibrating against the Isenshrikes white edge of dripping hot plasma. A dull hum filled the air as they stood locked in a test of might. The Isenshrikes hard wire cables and gears straining agains the warriors corded arms. The hum grew to a roar and then a soft pop as a small bead of light appeared between the two combatants blades, and they were thrown apart like heavy stones unleashed from their slings, Beard rocketing into the stony shore, the Isenshrike into the ocean.
The warrior spat hot burning blood from his mouth, and vomited smoldering bile upon the ground. The impact had disabled him briefly and the Isenshrike was already blade stepping towards the shore. The final illusion of the skinshyft began to fall from the warriors eyes. He lay embedded upon a sandy shore, white and thick with shattered cockleshells worn down by the endless tides. Samhaim lay a short distance away, and a girl was running down the beach, a verdant forest behind her, a flint dagger in her hand.
The girl rushed to the old mans side, then stood blade drawn, arms wide, before the Isenshrike as he skimmed towards her through the sandy shore. The godslayer's terrible blade flicked and sputtered out as it was raised to strike, but quickly a good iron blade took its place, and it began to swing in its cruel final arc, but the blade stopped short as its owner shuddered, doubling over before emitting a horrible whine.
The godslayer recovered and stood again, its cruel edge preparing its final arc, and again the shudders shook it, violet arcing currents rushing over the creatures form, and one of its unlight blackened eyes blinked with violet light. The Isenshrike turned towards Beard.
A terrible ringing buzz echoes through the air as the godslayer blade stepped to land in front of the warrior as he struggled to stand. Beard lifted his blade in defense, but it seemed all energy and life had left it, and more importantly, Beards arm was nearly as dead as his blade. The Isenshrike, one eye black the other violet raised one of its few still functioning appendages, the bladed arm it had raised earlier and failed to use to kill the girl.
The arc of the blade fell, and the warrior faced his end, but the sound of a far off hunting horn filled his ears. The Isenshrike paused in its grim work, just in time to encounter a gnarled wood cane shattering its rotating maw. Again and again the wooden cane stuck against the godslayer's torso, leaving further fragments of iron and other metals Beard could not identify upon the ground. The warrior turned a blooded eye towards his rescuer. A man clad in white with a beard brown-red as a rowan and streaked with the gray of an ash and eyes no human man had ever bore, the iris and pupil to large and brown, fitting more for a beast than a man. But consciousness began to fail the warrior, a sweet voice filled his mind beckoning him onward to rest. Beard fought to keep his eyes open, even as blood leaked from his lips.
Beard eyes fell heavy lidded upon a final scene, the alabaster warrior stretched out his hand in a five point palm next to his hardened cane, he whispered words no man should hear and a brilliant emerald light burst forth from the Isenshrikes chest before it blade stepped and did not reappear. Beard let his mind slip away into the fitful sleep of the wounded, to rest, to dream, and to die another day.