Battlesworn

By NocturnalNerd All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

PANDEMONIUM

When Pandemonium came, it was as expectant and surprising as a bird taking flight. There was a stillness to the air, as dry as it was ominous. There was a moment where everything simply stopped. Trees bending in the wind a moment before now sat hunched like old men, leaves kicked into the air held their breath, and those who leapt yesterday's puddles knew flight. The peoples of Mevrule stood suspended, yet aware. Their eyes darted in fearful misunderstanding, meeting the gazes of family, friends, and strangers; out on the street, inside their homes and workshops, across their evening meals.

The sun had just disappeared beyond the horizon, leaving the sky the color of drying blood. Then just as suddenly, the air was being sucked towards the wastelands nestled by the five cities, bringing with it the people's hope. A tornado formed between the peaks of two mountains - one of diamond and one of zircon - that merged at their bases. Together they created a wedge-shaped opening. The object that fell from the sky into that space fit perfectly in every tiny ridge, that it was a wonder no one had noticed it had been missing.

The impact jarred the whole of Mevrule, spewing forth waves of air, dust, and decay. Everywhere the tide surged became alive and animated again. It upended and scattered trees, boulders, and buildings. Though Niinheim's twenty-foot thick walls had been built against this wave, they were inadequate to the task. The wave slipped into the miniscule cracks in mortar and stone, washing over the city Niinheim first. Even the residents nestled in their homes were not wholly immune to its touch. The unforunates on the street were swept beneath the wave's currents. A malodorous oily substance that floated on it like how grease drifted to the surface while cooking. Where the secretion touched them, the Humans cried out in anguish, fell to the ground and did not rise again.

At the core of Niinheim sat the one of five of the most notorious, feared, and worshipped buildings. A dome built of diamond and zircon taken from the Twinpeaks, had been the focus of the Humans' hope and fear for a thousand years. Where once the temple had glittered beautifully, it now dimmed and blood oozed from between its segments.

Inside the Epitaph, every pastor, alcolyte, and servant fell to their knees and prayed with arms as unsteady as their faith was strong. A new, different wind passed over the Devout. While it blessed their faithful with benediction, the doubtful were left to sit and weep. The gale siphoned the Devout's blood through their pores, and carried it into the building's core. Through the Blessed's Chamber eighteen storey-high skylight, the erubescent sunset illuminated a single statue. The refectory had been fastidiously cleaned, swept, and polished every day for 12,000 years. Heavy double doors of gold-veined diamond were blown open and in a flash, and the pristine walls were smeared red with sacrifice.

The Chamber stood empty except for a single statue. It stood proudly atop an alter worked as a raven taking flight. The wind and blood encircled the statue, rapidly moving inward. When it congealed on the likeness of a hard-faced young man, it disappeared in a ball of red and white light; and grey stone became flesh.

I am...

The two words echoed throughout the Epitaph, and were so strong as to penetrate its walls and fill the ears of Niinheim. With a breath as loud as a gale, the man's body jerked as it absorbed the prayers and life force of his safekeepers. When at last his feet were free, the man stumbled off the podium and crumpled to the floor. The torn tresses of his long coat caught the dying wind and settled like a shroud around him.

Thought and memory came slowly, as he woke from a deep sleep. A thousand year sleep, the man thought sluggishly. Prying his eyes open was as difficult as separating two magnets. At first his vision was a confusion of blurred grays and blacks. Gradually it began to focus, color returning like flowers opening to Spring. There'll be no Spring this year if I don't get up, the man scolded himself.

Yet all he could do for several minutes was lie there and stare at his twitching hand. It was more than stiffness and lethargy that kept him there. The blood on the tiles had flowed away from him instinctively so that he lay on the only clean spot of the floor. It was a natural reaction to a Reaver's presence, one that sometimes irked the man. For how much death he dealt, his skin should have been dyed as red as a Gientun's.

Increasingly the Reaver became aware of other things. Of the warmthless ruddy light shining upon his face. Of the rush of blood running down the outside of the Epitaph. And the screams. Both inside and outside his tomb. For all the pretty titles given to the temple and its occupants, it was nevertheless a place of death. Full of the doomed, the dead, and the dying.

Pushing himself to hands and knees, the man waited for feeling to return to his limbs before rising. When he stood, it was with the gait of a staggering drunk. Limping towards the open double doors, the man focused on taking shallow breaths. He knew what awaited him outside this room, this place that had become the salvation all of Mevrule. He had seen it a dozen times before; every half a millenium he woke from a sleep deeper than a coma, to a world more terrifying than any nightmare.

Outside this room awaited a new hell than the one he had just left. The bodies of the Devout, the insane husks of the doubtful, the decaying flesh of the unlucky, and always - always! - the Harbringers of Destruction. Dreadlords. And it was the Reaver and his companions' duty to fight them. To uphold their oaths, and preserve the balance.

First though, he had to leave this place.

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