Searon’s claymore was in his
hands, glowing red, sparkling as he twirled it about to deflect blows from axes
all around him. And yet, even as he defended himself against the black scaled
reptilian draeyks, the blazing orange eyes he saw in his dreams the night
before were still the only thing on his mind. He felt as if those eyes were
watching him still, and he could almost swear to have seen them through the
thick forest enveloping him. Three draeyks lay dead on the ground. The stench
of distilled vinegar and rotten eggs brought an awful taste in his mouth,
taking away the scent of pine that he treasured so much.
Only two of the creatures remained, both cunning warriors, but frightened at his skill with a blade. He didn’t understand why he was having such a hard time killing the savage creatures. For the past three years Searon had been slaughtering a few each and every day, yet it never seemed like it would be enough. There was only one of him and there seemed to be thousands of the wretched creatures. Sometimes it felt as if they would never be destroyed, but keep coming back to haunt him in his nightmares.
He charged the two draeyks in front of him, focusing all of his rage for the creatures. Anger bled from Searon’s veins to his clenched fists, passing through them and into his claymore as it grew brighter and brighter, with such ferocity, making a crimson gleam to his weapon that was nearly blinding, even to himself. Only Searon’s blade glowed on the battlefield, almost appearing as if it was on fire. The crimson claymore was cool to the touch, but its steel was harder than any other sword, and if Searon pushed it a certain way it could fracture any other metal it came to contact with. Each of the creatures blocked his incoming strikes with so much precision that it baffled him. He tried changing the degree in which he slashed the blade, but the attempt seemed even more useless than what he was doing before. A flash of orange stole his attention as he looked into the oak trees beyond. Before he even heard the click of the crossbow, he felt the searing heat of a bolt entering his left shoulder. Gritting his teeth over a shout of pain, Searon tried to shake off the tingling burn that was running through his veins. He stepped forward, ready to finish off the savage creatures.
Now three stood in front of him, two with axes held high, and another, farther back, with a crossbow in its grasp. He stood calm, teeth bared, soaked by raindrops under a blanket of storm clouds, while thunder rattled the ground around him. His boots felt slick against the wet leaves and mud, yet he held his ground. He took a step back and sheathed his claymore in its scabbard. The two creatures in front rushed at him now that he was weaponless. He quickly ducked and leapt away from them as the third, with a crossbow, locked a bolt into place.
One draeyk brought its axe down towards Searon’s head. He reached up and grabbed the weapon as a bolt pierced his forearm. His teeth clenched as a great moan of anguish escaped his mouth, but he did not let go. Despite the excruciating agony, he continued forward, allowing his rage to turn his pain into numbness. He kicked the draeyk in the gut, causing it to drop its weapon, which he was able to snatch before it hit the ground. Searon twirled the axe in his hands and chopped the overgrown lizard’s scaly skull in two. Closing his eyes, Searon heard the crunch of scales and bone. Grimacing, the warrior wiped from his face the black ooze that filled his nostrils with the scent of spoiled milk and vinegar.
The other draeyk charged at Searon, delivering swift blows, which struck in such an odd pattern that made it difficult for Searon to deflect. He let the handle of the axe slide down his hands as he blocked another attack. Searon spun the axe around, feeling the unbalance of the weapon, and used the blunt side to slam into the creature’s knee. A loud ding in his left ear echoed from where an arrow struck his crimson and gold helm. The draeyk in front of him collapsed to his injured knee in the mud, clearly defeated at the hand of Searon. Before Searon finished the creature, the warrior stared deep into its soulless red eyes with such hatred that the wretched reptile nearly flinched. Searon nodded approval at the defeated creature’s distress before slashing its throat, causing thick ebony blood to pour down the creature’s body before it collapsed onto the ground.
Searon turned to the remaining draeyk still holding a crossbow, heaving the axe at its throat with inhuman speed. The reptile stepped aside with only millimeters to spare, and the axe pierced into the side of an oak tree, its handle wobbling from sheer velocity. Without a moment to spare, Searon ran forward, tackling the creature before it had a chance to reload its crossbow. They wrestled for a moment, the lizard’s sharp, yellow teeth unable to puncture Searon’s armor. Drawing upon his inhuman strength and speed, Searon grappled with the draeyk a minute longer, before growing bored with the struggle and rolling away, unsheathing his claymore. The creature, timid, attempted releasing one last bolt towards Searon’s face. Swiftly, without effort Searon curved his blade to intercept the bolt’s tip, causing it to ricochet away from being deadly, but the shaft still found its way to Searon’s face, smacking against his jaw. His chin throbbed and a deep red whelp began to form. He sliced the creature’s crossbow in half with annoyance, and took another step forward where he detached its reptilian head from its shoulders with a sneer.
He groaned heavily, sheathed his claymore, fell to his knees in the mud, and thanked the creator. When he opened his eyes he noticed those same orange eyes that were so unsettling in his dreams the night before. No longer was he dreaming of them, but they floated in front of him, growing closer.
The thundering ceased with the rain; chirping birds and squeaking crickets were the only sounds that breached the silence surrounding him. An elderly man appeared from the shadows between trees, startling Searon. Despite his keen hearing and sight, he never saw nor heard the old man approaching. Long, wispy salt-and-pepper hair graced the stranger’s shoulders, falling down in thick curly strands. A raggedy brown robe draped down past his shoulders to his feet where he wore thick brown leather boots. He walked with the aid of a tall, thick, wooden staff that masked the color of bark and seemed to be made of hardened wood that nearly resembled glass. The tip of the weapon as Searon saw it was five curled limbs that reminded him of fingers clawing for an unknown object. Searon clenched the hilt of his claymore and watched wearily as the old man approached him, radiant orange eyes glowing brighter with each step.
“Put that blade away, you fool,” the old man said with a serene voice.
“Who are you?” Searon asked, staring deep into the man’s demonic orange eyes.
“Someone who is much more attractive, and much smarter than you are,” the old man said in a serious tone.
“You’re asking for it, old man,” Searon’s eyes narrowed in frustration.
“No, if I were asking for it I would simply ask. However, you may call me Karceoles,” he said, folding his arms over his staff and grinning cynically.
“You must be wandering in the wrong forest. There are draeyks all through here,” Searon said bitterly in an attempt to frighten him off.
Karceoles kept his smile, “You underestimate me, boy. Besides being more attractive and smarter than you, I’m also exceedingly stronger.”
Searon grew tired of the old man now, and the way he talked without the slightest hint of respect in his voice. He studied the man’s face: full of hard lines, a strong, rounded jaw, swirling flames of orange for eyes; and, although he seemed aged, his wrinkles made him appear more wise than old.
“What do you want?” Searon asked, impatiently, growing wary of the old man and ready to be on his way.
“Some help. I’m looking for someone to start a war, and I’ve found you. That is a lovely horse,” he said.
Searon turned to see his black and white striped stallion approaching, saddle and bags secured tightly, the mighty steed apparently oblivious to the old man. It nuzzled its cheek against Searon’s palm, which the warrior stroked before climbing atop the magnificent beast.
“I want no part of any war,” Searon said.
“I’m afraid it’s too late…” Karceoles’s eyes wandered off, as if searching for something.
Searon began to wonder what the old man was talking about, but before he came to an answer, four draeyks jumped out from the trees with axes raised. He raised his claymore and blocked an incoming blow at the same time. Karceoles raised his staff and blocked the strike of the axe. Searon found it strange when the axe didn’t slice through the wood, but the old man blocked it, creating sparks as if it were metal. Karceoles swiftly moved his staff with ease, blocking every strike by the draeyks and adding offensive strikes of his own at an ungodly speed. Searon, already in a weakened state, had a tough time battling the draeyks. They outmaneuvered him, and then one struck him in the knee and caused him to fall off his horse.
Searon continued to fight from a kneeling position and was able to overcome a draeyk and strike it down. As he did, there was an incoming blow from behind that he wasn’t quick enough to catch. An axe sank into his shoulder, forcing him to fall flat on the ground, his face in the dirt. Searon tasted crunchy leaves, with a bit of blood in his mouth. At that moment Karceoles had defeated his draeyk and he raised his staff to point at the last two creatures by the warrior. Searon rolled over to stare at the two lizards above him as a swirl of orange flame escaped the tip of Karceoles’s cane and tossed the two draeyks at lightning speed into a thick tree. Their piercing screams were the last sound of their existence.
Karceoles walked up to Searon and offered his hand. The fallen warrior hesitated. Sighing deeply, Searon accepted the help, and got to his feet with the old man’s aid. He looked around to see four dead draeyks and his eye twitched when he looked at Karceoles.
“What are you?” Searon asked curiously.
He studied the old man and noticed his deep brown cloak covered his tan robes with a hood. The old man’s eyes were no longer orange, but a dark brown that seemed to flicker with slight hues of orange every few seconds. With his tangled salt and pepper hair, he looked strange without a beard to warm his face. It was custom for most of the older men of the land to grow beards, but this man seemed to make a point of keeping it shaved.
“I am a wizard. As I have said, I am stronger than you,” Karceoles said, lowering his cane to rest upon it.
Astonishment came to Searon, as he’d only heard rumors and stories of wizards. If they ever existed, they were supposed to be extinct at the same time as the dragons. He couldn’t be sure if the old man was telling the truth or not, because he had never seen a true wizard or knew what they looked like. The only thing he remembered was they wore robes, cloaks, and held a staff. It was also known that their power resembled in their eyes and robes. However, Searon considered how ridiculous orange robes would look upon the strange old man.
“What is that?” Searon asked, pointing to the large wooden scepter. It was the plainest weapon he’d ever seen that held so much power.
“This is called a zylek, which means ‘channel of energy.’ It is customary for wizards to carry one so we can focus our power instead of using it blindly,” Karceoles smiled. “It also shows how much smarter I am than you. Now you can make a comment about how great-looking I am, and all three things I’ve said about myself being more superior than you can fall right into place.”
“I don’t know how your mind works, old man, but no woman would find you attractive ahead of me,” Searon beamed at the old man’s confidence.
“We’ll just have to see about that,” Karceoles said, taking a step towards Searon and twirling his zylek with his strong, wrinkled hands.
“Aren’t you supposed to have orange robes? Or are the stories false that match powers with robes?”
“My robes are orange.”
Searon looked, again, doubtfully.
“They’re old… and dirty.”
“Why do they have to be the same color?” Searon asked.
“If not, the magic that burns through me will burn through whatever clothes I wear. Therefore wizards have learned to wear the same color, lest wandering naked.”
“Are there a lot of wizards?” Searon asked, watching the old man closely, unsure if he could trust him.
“I am the last one left of Calthoria who is worth a grain of salt,” Karceoles explained. The wizard raised his zylek, inspected it closely, and watched with concentration as it transformed from brown to orange.
“Are there more lands across the seas?” Searon asked, never hearing such tales about other continents. He was sure it was plausible, and there were some tales of people traveling to other continents, but he hardly believed those stories.
“There ought to be. How else might the kheshlars have migrated here?” Karceoles said, pulling his hair out of his glowing eyes to look at Searon expectantly.
“There are kheshlars here? Where are they?” Searon asked. His heart raced. “I’ve only heard stories of kheshlars showing up here and there, but never knew there were any here.”
Tales of kheshlars traveled across the land, but none had ever been seen, and Searon wasn’t sure it was any more than a story. His past few years had been filled with relentless traveling through human villages and cities, searching for draeyks to slay; he had never come across any kheshlars. He stroked his horse’s mane as he pondered these thoughts.
“There’s an entire section of their territory deep in the forest here in Calthoria. They have a capitol there called Sudegam,” Karceoles said.
“That is unreal,” Searon said, trying to remember the old stories of kheshlars that he heard.
“What is unreal is a foolish man trying to seek out all the draeyks of this land by himself. The draeyks of this land more than triple the numbers of humans,” Karceoles said with confidence.
“Don’t preach to me, Wizard, I can handle myself,” Searon said gritting his teeth. Talking to the old wizard had grown exhausting, and he was tired of wasting time.
“Everybody has problems with the draeyks, boy; you’re not the only one who has lost something because of them,” Karceoles said as he sighed and tilted his head to one side.
“I don’t know how you know so much about me, wizard. I live my own life. I don’t need you telling me what is stupid or not,” Searon murmured, reminiscing his haunted past. He wondered if he was that transparent to the wizard and would do better guarding his emotions.
“You don’t need anyone to tell you that facing them alone is stupid, boy. You already know that. This is another reason why I am much smarter than you,” Karceoles smirked, expanding his chest to show his masculinity.
Searon clenched his eyes and held back his anger. “Despite what you think, I will not quit hunting the draeyks,”
“I’m not asking that you do. I’m merely suggesting that you be smarter about it,” Karceoles said, holding his zylek from his body and letting it glow the brightest orange. Swirls of magic enveloped the top of it that seemed to dance.
“And how is that?” Searon asked. He became was interested in information to make the draeyks suffer as much as possible before his revenge got the best of him.
“Go to the kheshlars and ask for their help. There is a great war coming soon against the draeyks, and if you humans can get the kheshlars to ally, you can defeat the draeyks once and for all,” Karceoles said. The swirls cascaded out from the zylek and disintegrated into the crisp air.
“From what I heard about the kheshlars, they do not ally themselves with anyone who is not kheshlarn,” Searon said, remembering the stories of the kheshlars. It was often said that to ask a kheshlar for help was asking for a woman to be quiet during the birth of her son.
“You must try,” Karceoles pleaded, eyes less focused and more concerned, watery in the sunlight.
“You are mad, wizard. I must do nothing. You cannot burst into my life and make demands of me, now leave me be,” Searon said bitterly, before putting his claymore back into its scabbard and turning away.
“Actually I can, and I have. You will go to Sudegam, and you will ask for the aid of the kheshlars in the upcoming war against these reptilian creatures,” the wizard said with hardened eyes and pursed lips.
“I will not.”
Karceoles raised his zylek and orange magic trickled from it that caught Searon’s plate mail on fire, burning through to his flesh. He dropped to the ground and rolled until the fire put itself out in the brush, but the hot metal still burned against his flesh.
“Fool, do you think torture is going to work on me?” Searon asked angrily. He could always handle pain, he had already lost everything he cared about and physical pain meant nothing to him anymore.
“Yes… Yes I do,” Karceoles smirked deceivingly.
Another swirl of orange magic flowed from his zylek and froze Searon in a block of solid orange ice. He was still conscious and stared at the wizard in disbelief, his eyes shifting but body unmovable.
Karceoles shook his head, allowing his tangled white and grey hair to seemingly float in a breeze of magic, “Some fools never learn.”